Diabetes Forecast

The Healthy Living Magazine

Insulin Pens

These insulin-delivery tools make dosing more convenient

By Miriam E. Tucker , ,
insulin pen and pen needles

Ted Morrison

 Download a printable insulin pen chart.

Insulin pens can make injecting easier and more discreet because the insulin and injecting device are in one unit. There’s no need to carry a separate insulin vial and draw the medication into a syringe.

Short- and Long-Term Use

Some insulin pens are disposable. They come prefilled with insulin, and when the insulin is gone or the pen has been in use for more than the days listed on the package insert, the device is simply thrown away. Other pens are reusable: You can refill them with separate insulin cartridges.

Pens deliver different brands and types of insulin. Some deliver short-acting (premeal, or bolus) insulin, others long-acting (background, or basal) insulin, while still others are prefilled with insulin combinations, such as 70/30, 75/25, and 50/50 basal-bolus blends.

Visual Cues

If you use separate pens for basal and bolus insulins, it’s extremely important to pay attention to which one you’re using so you don’t inject the wrong insulin. Disposable pens have color-coded labels for the different types of insulin, which can help prevent errors. To make mix-ups less likely, some people choose to use vials and syringes for basal insulin (typically given once or twice a day) and the more portable pens for mealtime injecting. Using different brands of pens for basal and bolus insulins is another good way to distinguish the types.

Minimums and Maximums

Insulin dosing is another consideration when selecting a pen. Some pens deliver half units, others only whole units. Pens also vary in how much can be delivered at one time, with maximums of between 30 and 80 units; if your dose is higher, you’ll need to inject more than once.

Special Features

A new pen, the NovoPen Echo, includes a memory function that records the dose, date, and how much time has passed since the last injection. This can be a reassuring feature and help people take their insulin as directed. Timesulin is a digital timer cap attachment that fits most major insulin pens.

How to Inject With a Pen

The goal is to deliver the insulin in the tissue just under the skin, avoiding the muscle below that. Adults using a 4- or 5-millimeter needle are advised to inject at a 90-degree angle and not pinch the skin. However, children and very lean adults who use their arms or thighs for injection sites should pinch the skin even when using a short 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.

 Download a printable insulin pen chart.

Insulin Pen Needles


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