Is an Insulin Pen Right for You?

A look at the advantages and disadvantages

| Nov 1, 2005

I often wonder why insulin pens are so popular in Europe, yet usage in the United States continues to hover around 12 percent. I think the main reason is that many healthcare providers are not familiar with insulin pens or how to train people to use them, so they don’t recommend pens to their patients.

Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of using an insulin pen to take your insulin, and you can decide if an insulin pen is right for you. Here are some features to consider:

Refillable or Disposable?

Many pens today are disposable, freeing you from the need to replace the insulin cartridge. Most pens are small and easy to use, making it simpler to inject discreetly in a restaurant or other public place.

Potency and Waste of Insulin

Insulin cartridges hold 300 units of insulin. An insulin vial holds 1,000 units. Most insulin should be discarded within 28 days of being opened, with the exception of premixed insulin, which is good for 10 to 14 days. If you use a 300-unit cartridge, you will probably have a lot less waste and reduce the likelihood of using insulin that is less potent.

Dosage Errors

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

The Fewer the Steps, the Easier

Different insulin comes in different pens. I sometimes choose the insulin based on which pen would be best for the patient. The fewer the steps required, the easier the pen is to use. A disposable pen is always easier because you 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 whether you 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 longer length is another advantage of insulin pens. The mini pen needles are 5 mm in length and can be used by children and thin adults. Short needles range from 6 to 8 mm and are very comfortable to use for most people.


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

Talk With Your Healthcare Professional

If you would like to try an insulin pen, talk to your healthcare provider about which pens you can choose from, based on which types of insulin you are taking. Your provider may be able to change your insulin so that you can use a particular pen of your choice. To learn more about the insulin pens that are available today, see the “Insulin Pens Reference Guide”; 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 to locate a CDE near you.

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Categories: Diabetes, Diabetes, Insulin, Pens, Syringes

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