An insulin pen is a device for giving insulin shots. It looks like a pen. Inside the pen is a needle and a cartridge filled with insulin. You can set the dose of insulin with a dial on the outside of the pen. You use the pen to give the insulin shot (injection). Both disposable and reusable insulin pens are available.
With a disposable pen, a set amount of insulin comes in the pen ready to use. When the insulin is used up, you throw the pen away. You use a new pen the next time you need insulin.
With a reusable pen, you don't throw the pen away. Instead, you reload the pen with a pre-measured cartridge of insulin. When the insulin is used up, you insert a new cartridge into the pen.
Disposable and reusable pens both need a new needle with each shot. The needles come in different lengths and widths. Shorter needles will prevent injecting into the muscle, especially in children or people who are lean. Thinner-width needles reduce the pricking sensation. Width is measured by gauge. The higher the number, the thinner the needle.
Each pen delivers a different brand and type (or types) of insulin. Some deliver rapid-acting insulin. Others deliver long-acting insulin. And some pens deliver a mixture of both in one shot.
Pens have different coloured labels, cartridge holders, or dosing knobs. Many pens have special features. For example, some pens have springs so that it takes less force to deliver a dose of insulin. Other pens have signals you can hear that let you know the insulin has been delivered. Some have memory to show the amount and time of the last dose.
Don't share insulin pens with anyone else who uses insulin. Even when the needle is changed, an insulin pen can carry bacteria or blood that can make another person sick.
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Current as of: March 13, 2017
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
& A. Evan Eyler, MD, MPH - Family Medicine, Psychiatry
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