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Better Blood Glucose Control With Insulin Pens

How one former pump user found freedom (and better blood glucose control) with insulin pens

By Gina Roberts-Grey , , , ,

Terry Doran/Mittera

Name: Christ Pickering
Age: 33
Hometown: Yukon, Oklahoma
Occupation: Cofounder, The Betes Bros
Diabetes: Type 1 since 1988

Like most people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the ’80s, Chris Pickering began treatment using vials and syringes. He was only 3 when he was diagnosed, so his parents were responsible for all of his blood glucose checks and insulin injections. At the time, the insulin delivery device they used didn’t matter so much.

But more than a decade later, Pickering needed a change. He’d been doing his own injections for years, and while his blood glucose was well managed, the treatment didn’t exactly fit his life as an active teen. He played sports and liked to hang out with his friends, and giving himself multiple injections every day had become cumbersome. “It’s intrusive to stop what you’re doing and give yourself an injection or to have to keep the required tools on hand at all times,” he says.

Pumped Up by Progress

Tired of vials and syringes, Pickering was delighted when his doctor suggested switching to an insulin pump, which releases insulin during the day to regulate blood glucose. “The ease of the pump was great,” he says. “I liked that it calculated the exact dose of insulin I needed based on what I ate. I no longer had to duck into the bathroom for an injection.”

But there were downsides to wearing an insulin pump, too. “The tubing would get caught on things or be grabbed,” he remembers. “And [the pump] pulled off when I was playing sports.”

Today, users can sidestep tubing snags by using the Omnipod, a tubeless insulin pump that sticks to the skin to deliver insulin. But it wasn’t available in the early 2000s when Pickering was looking for a solution. After using a pump for over five years, he decided it was time for another change.

An Untangled Treatment Plan

A happy medium, Pickering’s endocrinologist said, may be insulin pens. Unlike syringes, pens come preloaded with insulin—anywhere from 300 to 1,500 units, depending on the type of insulin and brand of pen. They work simply: The user twists or snaps on a new needle, dials a dose, injects the insulin, then deposits the used needle into a sharps container. Certain insulin pens are disposable, so users trash the pen once the insulin is gone or expired, while other pens can be reused once a new cartridge of insulin is inserted.

Pickering jumped at the chance to swap his tether to an insulin pump for two insulin pens. He currently uses a pen loaded with long-acting insulin in the morning and evening, plus a rapid-acting insulin pen for mealtime and correction doses four to 10 times a day.

The color and design of his insulin pens allow Pickering to quickly deliver his dose of insulin anywhere and at any time, including on the fly. “The pens have different colors, caps, and shapes, so it’s very easy to know which one I’m grabbing and using. I just pop a needle in, dial the dose, and give myself the injection.” Administering insulin that quickly wasn’t an option with syringes and vials. Pens are also more portable than vials and syringes, a major plus for Pickering, who has begun traveling more often.

Using pens is also more private. “If you’re at a restaurant, you don’t want to pull out a syringe,” he says.

The move to pens has helped Pickering’s diabetes management, too. “Since switching to pens, I have seen a drop in my A1C percentage, which I think is due to the pens’ ease of use,” he says.

One Sticking Point

Despite the benefits, Pickering has found that pens have one notable drawback: “The number of injections needed is my only pet peeve to using pens,” he says. “If you’re like me and like to eat a lot, you have to live with multiple injections versus the ease of being hooked up to a pump and just programming your insulin needs in for that meal. Finding a way to not have to do as many injections would be lovely.”

But no matter which insulin delivery tool he uses, the key to managing his diabetes is his level of involvement in his diabetes care. “How well you actively participate in your own care and well-being is essential to any treatment being easy and effective,” says Pickering.

While he understands the need for those living with diabetes to focus on A1C percentages, he’s learned that having a say in how you reach your glucose goal can help move that A1C number to a good place. And pens helped him more than any other treatment because they’re easy-to-use and portable devices. “You have to feel comfortable about what you’re using,” Pickering says. “Regardless if the tool is new and great or time-tested and trusted, if you’re not using it properly and as prescribed, you won’t achieve the desired results.”

  Download a full chart of insulin pens and their features.