Insulin Pen vs. Vial and Syringe

insulin pensI still draw insulin from a vial into a syringe. I’ve written before about why I’m not using an insulin pump. Although I do think pumps are amazing, they aren’t for everyone and that’s ok. We actually have a third option – the insulin pen – which I’m told is the most popular insulin delivery method in other countries.

Insulin pens got a slow start in the United States. Regardless, they are a great option for people who take insulin. For many years pens were encouraged for those who had trouble seeing or with manual dexterity. Pens have a “dial-a-dose” feature, where you turn the dial at the end of the pen and listen for “clicks,” which correspond to units. Quite handy. In addition, pens are easy to carry along in a backpack or purse (or pocket).

Insulin pens do have some drawbacks. They tend to collect air bubbles pretty easily, so it’s usually necessary to expel air prior to taking a dose. This invariably results in wasting some insulin, but probably not enough to worry about. Also, pen needles need to be changed frequently. Ideally we would put a new needle on the pen every time we use it, but in the real world many, if not most people reuse their pen needles.

Even then, the pen needle needs to be changed at the very least after three uses to avoid insulin crystallizing (hardening) inside the needle. This can lead to blockage, which can cause us to use extra force and accidentally break the entire pen mechanism, resulting in major insulin wastage.

A recent study showed that people with type 2 diabetes prefer pens to syringes/vials. This study also showed no difference in outcomes (including A1C) between those using insulin pens vs. vial and syringe. As long as they are used correctly, and there is no problem with cost, there’s no reason not to use insulin pens.

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