Insulin pens and cartridges

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Many people prefer insulin pens to syringes. Find out why they are preferred and what the advantages and disadvantages are.

Key points

  • Insulin pens require fewer steps to prepare the insulin than syringes do.
  • Insulin pens are designed to only give a single type of insulin at a time.
  • For those who require two types of insulin, they will need to use a syringe, or receive the two types in two different pens.

People often prefer insulin​ pens to syringes because they require less steps to prepare the insulin. Insulin pens also use smaller and thinner needles to deliver insulin. Insulin pens can only give a single type of insulin at one time.

Insulin pens have several parts:

  • a cartridge holder and an insulin cartridge: Rather than taking insulin out of a bottle, you use a cartridge of insulin that fits into the device
  • a pen cover, which looks like a regular pen cap
  • a pen window; it is a clear part in the insulin pen that looks like the barrel of syringe
  • a pen dial; this is a button that you can turn to adjust the dose to be delivered
  • a pen injection button at the end of the pen (like a plunger of a syringe); when pushed down, insulin is delivered
  • a pen needle; a special needle-tip screws onto the end of the pen
  • pen inner and outer needle covers which are little caps that protect the needle.

However, pens are designed to only give a single type of insulin at a time. For children who require two types of insulin at the same time of the day (e.g., before breakfast), there are two options:

  1. Mix the two types of insulin and use a syringe (a slower process, but only one injection).
  2. Receive the two types of insulin using two separate insulin pens (a faster process, more accurate, with a shorter and thinner needle, but two injections).

Premixed insulin pens are available, but they are usually not suitable for children, who need changes in the ratio of the intermediate/long-acting to fast-acting insulin mix.

Inject insulin using an insulin pen

This interactive animation shows how to inject insulin using an insulin pen.

How to inject insulin using an insulin pen
  1. Collect the items you will need to inject insulin: an insulin pen, a new replacement insulin cartridge, a new replacement needle, your child’s insulin log and a sharps disposal container.
  2. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water. Rinse and dry them well.
  3. Remove the cap on the pen.
  4. Insert a new insulin cartridge, after you have removed the empty or expired insulin cartridge from the cartridge holder and throw it out in your hazardous wastes bin.
  5. Attach and prepare a new needle to the end of the cartridge holder.
  6. Remove the air from the new needle (“priming”).
  7. Set the dosage by dialing the pen to the right amount of insulin.
  8. Determine which inject​ion​ site​ you will use.
  9. Grasp the pen in your dominant hand and position your thumb on the injection button. Do not press down on the injection button just yet.
  10. Gently pinch up the skin and fat with your other hand using your thumb and forefinger.
  11. Gently insert the needle steadily and smoothly into the skin at a 90-degree angle. For leaner children, punch up the skin and inject the pen at a 45-degree angle.
  12. With your thumb, push the injection button all the way down to release the insulin.
  13. Hold the pen needle in the skin and count to 10 slowly.
  14. Remove the needle and let go of the pinched-up skin.
  15. Place the outer needle cap carefully back over the needle. Twist the needle capsule (needle cover and needle) off to safely remove the needle from the pen.
  16. Use a dry cotton swab to apply gentle pressure to the injection site. The pressure will help prevent bruising.
  17. Discard the needle capsule in your sharps disposal container.
Last updated: October 17th 2016