Diabetes Forecast

Insulin Pens 2014

They bring grab-and-go convenience to taking shots

By Erika Gebel Berg, PhD , , ,

Insulin pens can make taking insulin more convenient because they combine the medication and syringe in one handy unit. Each pen works only with certain types of insulin, so keep that in mind as you browse the products.

Pens come in two basic types: disposable and reusable. Disposable pens are preloaded with insulin and are discarded after the insulin cartridge is empty or the pen has been in use for 28 or 32 days (depending on insulin type). Reusable pens work with insulin cartridges that can be loaded into the pen and then tossed away once the insulin is used, leaving the pen ready for the next cartridge.

Another pen trait you may want to note when picking a pen is how it doses insulin. Some pens can dose in half-unit increments (for example, 1.5 units), while others dose in whole units. The maximum dosage of insulin that can be delivered at one time also varies among pens.

Beyond insulin, pens are also used to deliver other injectable diabetes medications, such as exenatide (Byetta), liraglutide (Victoza), and pramlintide (Symlin).

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Pen Needle Pointers

Once you’ve picked your pen, you’ll need a needle for the tip. Pen needles screw onto the top of an insulin pen. It’s good practice to change your needle after each injection or at least once daily. Fresh, sharp needles mean shots that are less painful.

Most brands of pen needle will fit any of the insulin pens. Pen needles come in different lengths—between 4 and 12 mm—and gauges, which refers to the thickness of the needle.


Studies have shown that a shorter needle is effective for all body types. The goal is to deliver the insulin in the tissue just under the skin, avoiding the muscle below that. When using a shorter needle, inject at a 90-degree angle and do not pinch up the skin. Very lean people may want to pinch up the skin and inject at an angle even with a shorter needle to avoid penetrating the muscle. Hold the needle in the skin for 5 to 10 seconds after you give the insulin so the medication doesn’t leak from the site.


A higher gauge means a thinner needle. A thicker needle may be more painful, while length shouldn’t really affect pain sensation. If you inject a large dose of insulin at one time, a lower-gauge (thicker) needle may make for quicker insulin delivery and help you to avoid medication leaking out of your skin.



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