What is an Insulin Pen?

Dorothy Distefano

An insulin pen is an alternative to a syringe for delivering a precise dosage of insulin to a diabetic patient. Use of an insulin pen may make the process of self-injection easier for those who require regular doses. These pens are very portable and convenient.

Injection sites for an insulin are usually rotated and include the upper arm, thigh, and abdomen.
Injection sites for an insulin are usually rotated and include the upper arm, thigh, and abdomen.

Insulin pens typically come in two types, pre-filled and durable. Both types of pens use insulin cartridges that may have dials to determine the exact dose of medication. Durable insulin pens have replaceable insulin cartridges, while pre-filled pens can be completely discarded when the insulin cartridge is empty. Both types use disposable pen needles.

An insulin pen can be used to inject insulin into the bloodstream to control glucose levels.
An insulin pen can be used to inject insulin into the bloodstream to control glucose levels.

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The advantages of using an insulin pen, rather than an insulin syringe, include an increase in accuracy and user convenience. To measure each dose with a syringe, the patient will likely inject air into the insulin bottle, in an amount equal to the amount of medication that will be needed. The patient will then turn the bottle over, so that it is upside down, and pull back on the plunger to draw the appropriate amount of insulin into the syringe. Flicking the barrel will cause any air bubbles to rise to the surface. By pressing the plunger, the patient removes any air from the barrel, and may check for an accurate dosage.

To administer a dose of insulin with a pen, a patient will affix a new pen needle to the insulin pen. The patient may then dial the control at the end of the pen to the correct dosage. Next, the patient can press the button until a drop appears at the tip of the needle, to ensure that there is no air trapped within it. The insulin may then be injected.

Patients should always wash their hands before preparing and administering an insulin injection with a syringe or pen. This will minimize exposure to bacteria through the injection site. Using an alcohol wipe to cleanse the top of the pen before attaching the needle will also help to ensure cleanliness.

Injection sites are usually located on the upper arm, thigh, or abdomen. If the insulin pen is used multiple times per day, it is recommended that sites are rotated. Injecting into the same site repeatedly can cause lumps that hinder the efficient absorption of insulin.

To administer the dose, hold the pen like a dart in one hand, while firmly pinching the skin with the other hand. Quickly insert the needle at a 90° angle. Depress the button at the end of the pen to release the medication. Carefully withdraw the needle from the skin.

Insulin pen needles should be disposed of properly. To reduce the risk of injury, used needles should be discarded in an appropriately labeled sharp medical waste container. These containers are puncture-resistant, so that no one can sustain an injury due to contact with a used needle.

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