8 Ways to Take Insulin

Need insulin? While the drug itself may be old—nearly 100 years to be exact—there's lots of new things happening when it come to ways to take it.

Need insulin? While the drug itself may be old—nearly 90 years to be exact—there’s lots of new things happening when it comes to ways to take it.

From the old-fashioned needle and syringe to injector pens to pumps, you’ve got choices to make. There’s even a plethora of devices that can help you inject if you have poor vision or mobility issues.

Check out these eight options and talk with your certified diabetes educator to determine which insulin delivery system or injection aids are right for you.

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Needle and syringe

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With this type of delivery system, you insert a needle into a vial, draw up the appropriate amount of insulin, and then inject into the subcutaneous space—the tissue just under your skin. Here are 5 types of insulin and 9 factors that affect how insulin works.

Even though there are other options, needles and syringes remain the most common way to take insulin. Some of the new insulin injection methods, such as the insulin pen, carry only a preset amount of insulin.

Thinner needles and other advancements, such as syringe magnifiers, have made syringes easier to use.

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Syringe magnifier

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Have poor vision? You’re not alone.

According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults aged 20–74 years.

Needle guides can help you keep the syringe or pen steady at the desired location and at the correct angle both for drawing up insulin out of the vial and injecting.

Some needle guides also come with magnifiers, which help by enlarging the numbers and allowing you to read the fine print and dosages on the syringe.

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Syringe-filling device


These devices are another example of innovations designed to help make insulin needles more palatable.

Syringe-filling devices allow a person with diabetes to load a syringe with a simple touch or sometimes to measure out dosages based on a "click" sound, as well as mix two different types of insulin together.

Spring-loaded syringe holders are another way to make insulin needles and syringes easier and less painful to use.

These devices often have push buttons that trigger the plunger, helping you inject. (It’s considered an “insertion aid.”)

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Insulin pen

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This device is like a large pen that has an insulin-dispensing needle on the end rather than ink. Unlike syringes, insulin pens contain a built-in insulin cartridge that is prefilled with the drug.

You turn a dial to the desired dose, press a plunger, and inject the insulin. (You change the needle before each use).

Once you have used up the insulin, you replace the cartridge. Some insulin pens can be discarded after the cartridge is empty, and replaced with a new pen.

These pens can be easier for people with diabetes-related vision problems, because you have to just turn a dial. Plus, the dial makes a clicking noise as it turns, which can help you measure out fewer units of insulin.

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Jet Injection or jet injector

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No needle is necessary with insulin jet injectors, which should make them a great choice for "needle-phobics."

Instead, these devices use high pressure to send a fine spray of insulin through the skin.

Great in theory, jet injectors never quite took off among people with diabetes—some say they are more painful than needles.

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Insulin pump

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These devices deliver insulin all day. The pump is attached to a small tube or catheter with a needle on the end that is inserted in your skin, usually in your abdomen.

About the size of a deck of cards, the pump can be programmed to deliver insulin to cover meals too. “Pumps provide insulin all the time, and then you can give yourself a bolus (dose) every time you eat to keep your blood sugar down,” says Saleemah Fahmi, MD, an endocrinologist in Dallas.

However, they aren’t necessarily easy to use (it can take a bit of training). Best for those taking insulin several times a day—like type 1 diabetics—pumps are not typically the first choice for people with type 2, though some

type 2 diabetics love their insulin pump.

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Injection ports


Ports use the same sets of tubing that can be used with an insulin pump, but you can use them on their own without the pump.

Basically the catheter is inserted under the skin and stays in place for several days.

Insulin can be injected via the subcutaneous infusion set rather than directly to the skin. Instead of getting multiple skin punctures a day, the user has only one every several days.

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Pump patch

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These devices are basically insulin pumps that attach directly to the skin; they don't use tubing to deliver the drug.

“These are relatively new, and many models are still being developed,” explains Judith Pegg, RN, MSN, CDE, a diabetes educator at Beaumont Hospital in Troy, Mich.

“Pump patches are wireless, can be applied almost anywhere on the body, and are supposed to be very easy to use and eliminate the need to carry around the big pump.” One model, by OmniPod, is already on the market.

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