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The Healthy Living Magazine

Product Guide: Insulin Pens

With these devices, your next insulin dose is just a click away

By Lindsey Wahowiak ,

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Insulin pens can make giving yourself medication easier because they are an insulin storage and delivery system in a single package. “Pens are more expensive than the vials, but the pens will also last a lot longer [before expiring], and 90 percent of the time they’re covered under all plans,” says Heather Free, PharmD, a practicing pharmacist in Washington, D.C., and spokeswoman for the American Pharmacists Association. “They’re more efficient, they’re more user friendly, and they encourage patients to do more for adherence.”

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

With a disposable pen, a set amount of insulin comes in the pen ready to use. When you use up the insulin inside, pitch the pen and get a new one. With a reusable pen, keep the pen itself while refilling it with easy-to-load, premeasured cartridges of insulin. Before first use, insulin pens or cartridges should be stored in the refrigerator. After that, they can be stored at room temperature.

The Long and the Short of It

Each pen delivers a different brand and type (or types) of insulin. Some deliver rapid-acting (bolus, or mealtime) insulin. Others deliver long-acting (basal, or background) insulin. There are others that deliver a mixture of both in one injection. Giving yourself a dose of the wrong insulin can be dangerous, which is why disposable pens have different colored labels, cartridge holders, and/or dosing knobs.

It’s the Little Things

Many pens offer special features—spring-loaded mechanisms that require less force to deliver a dose of insulin, textures to differentiate them from other pens, and audible signals to let you know insulin has been delivered. The reusable NovoPen Echo has a memory function that shows when the last dose was delivered and how much insulin was given at the time.

Using a Pen

Insulin pen manufacturers recommend injecting at a 90-degree angle into your flesh. With short needles (4 or 5 millimeters), most adults do not need to pinch the skin. Very lean adults or kids, or those who use longer needles, may need to pinch the skin to ensure the insulin is deposited in the fat layer between the skin and muscle. Keep the pen needle in the  skin for a count of 10 seconds after giving the dose to make sure the insulin is fully delivered.

Need help picking the right pen needles? We've broken down the features.