Is an Insulin Pen Right for You?

I often wonder why insulin pens are so popular in Europe, yet usage in the United States continues to hover around12 percent. I think the main reason is thatmany healthcare providers are not familiarwith insulin pens or how to train people touse them, so they don’t recommend pens totheir patients.

Let’s look at the advantages anddisadvantages of using an insulin pen totake your insulin, and you can decide if aninsulin pen is right for you. Here are somefeatures to consider:

Refillable or Disposable?

Many pens today are disposable, freeing you from theneed to replace the insulin cartridge. Most pens are smalland easy to use, making it simpler to inject discreetly in arestaurant or other public place.

Potency and Waste of Insulin

Insulin cartridges hold 300 units of insulin. An insulinvial holds 1,000 units. Most insulin should be discardedwithin 28 days of being opened, with the exception ofpremixed insulin, which is good for 10 to 14 days. If youuse a 300-unit cartridge, you will probably have a lot lesswaste and reduce the likelihood of using insulin that isless potent.

Dosage Errors

It is much easier to see the numbers on an insulin penthan on a syringe. For those who have difficulty readingthe numbers on the barrel of the syringe, an insulin pen isprobably a safer option.

The Fewer the Steps, the Easier

Different insulin comes in different pens. I sometimeschoose the insulin based on which pen would be best forthe patient. The fewer the steps required, the easier thepen is to use. A disposable pen is always easier becauseyou don’t have to change the cartridge. Find out if the pen dials in 1- or 2-unit increments, how many units can be given in a single shot (most range from 21 to 80 units),whether it can deliver half doses (if needed) and whethe ryou have the hand-reach and strength to depress the plunger if taking larger doses.

Pen Needles

The availability of pen needles in a mini, short and longerlength is another advantage of insulin pens. The mini penneedles are 5 mm in length and can be used by childrenand thin adults. Short needles range from 6 to 8 mm andare very comfortable to use for most people.


Using an insulin pen can be faster and easier when onthe go than using a vial and syringe. As more and morepeople are taking rapid-acting insulin before each meal,the insulin pen’s portability makes this regimen easier tofollow. And some people feel the pen lacks the stigma ofthe needle.

Talk With Your Healthcare Professional

If you would like to try an insulin pen, talk to yourhealthcare provider about which pens you can choosefrom, based on which types of insulin you are taking.Your provider may be able to change your insulin sothat you can use a particular pen of your choice. To lear nmore about the insulin pens that are available today, seethe “Insulin Pens Reference Guide Chart”; you might bring it to your healthcare provider for his or her review. If you need training in using an insulin pen, ask to see a certified diabetes educator, or go to AADE to locate a CDE near you.

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