Islets of Hope treatment options for persons with diabetes

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By Lahle Wolfe


Lilly answers questions about using prefilled pens

Insulin pens: are you using yours correctly?

This article is part of a series on insulin pens

Part 1
Information about Insulin

What is an insulin pen?
Advantages of Using a Pen
Disadvantages of Using a Pen
Where to Buy Insulin Pens'
How to Use an Insulin Pen
Types of Insulin Pens Available

Part 2
Step-by-step Guide to
Using Insulin

Choosing An Injection Site
Rotating Injection Sites
Giving the Injection
Sharps Disposal
Troubleshooting & Tips

Part 3 (Shots and Pens)
How to Inject Insulin

Choosing An Injection Site
Rotating Injection Sites
Giving the Injection
Sharps Disposal
Troubleshooting & Tips

Also, see:

Insulin Delivery Devices
Conventional vs. Intensive (Flexible) Insulin Therapy
Types of Insulin
Shot Therapy
Insulin Reactions
Glucose Monitoring Tips
Treatment Options for Type 1 Diabetes


ADA Complete Guide to Diabetes:  Perhaps the most complete and authoritative resource on diabetes, American Diabetes Association Complete Guide to Diabetes covers everything from how to manage types 1 and 2 and gestational diabetes, to traveling with insulin, sick-day action plans, and recognizing hypoglycemia.

Other contents include information on symptoms, complications, exercise and nutrition, blood sugar control, sexual issues, drug therapies, insulin regimes, and much more. Plus, information for every parent about children, schools, and day care. This updated third edition features new information on medications, diabetes management and new therapies, and new treatments for diabetes complications.

islets of hope diabetes medical library                          main Treatment Options page
Diabetes treatment options - insulin delivery devices

Step-by-step guide to using insulin pens

Mini site index
Types of Insulin Pens
How to Use an Insulin Pen (short version)
Step-by-Step Guide to Using an Insulin Pen  

Types of Insulin Pens

An insulin pen is an insulin delivery (injection) device for the treatment of diabetes.  An insulin pen is comprised of disposable needles, a vial of insulin, and the pen portion which the needle is screwed into and houses the insulin cartridge. A number of companies make insulin pens including Novo Nordisk, Aventis and Eli Lilly. These companies produce pens for most their insulins, including Humalog (also known as insulin lispro) and Lantus (see more below). But there are only two different types of systems:

  • Disposable (throw away when empty)
  • Reusable pens - (also called replaceable cartridge pen or nondisposable) reuses the pen portion. When the insulin is empty, the vial is simply replaced by inserting a new one (or a refillable insulin cartridge)

All insulin pens require a needle that you need to change (simply screw a new one onto the pen).  As with traditional syringes, pen needles come in various lengths and thickness.  Be sure to ask your doctor which one is best for you.  

Please read the instructions carefully for your individual pen since they do not all work the same way.  Have your doctor of diabetes educator show you how to properly use the particular insulin pen prescribed for you.

How to Use an Insulin Pen (short version)

Pens are simple to use, and even young children (properly trained, and with supervision) can use them with ease.  The basics of using an insulin pen include (assuming you are using a disposable pen, or, have already filled the cartridge in a reusable pen):

  • Screw on a new needle
  • If necessary, prime the pen to remove any air from the pen (air will not hurt you but you may not get an accurate amount of insulin)
  • Turn the knob on the end of the pen (or "dial") to the number of units
  • Insert the needle under the skin
  • Press the button on the end of the pen
  • Count to five
  • Remove the pen

Step-by-Step Basic Insulin Pen Injection Preparation

  1. Get organized.  It helps to have all your supplies ready to go in one place.  Wash your hand thoroughly to prevent contaminating needles and insulin.  Warm, soapy water is best.  Using friction (rubbing hands and fingers together vigorously) will kill more germs than rinsing or passive hand-washing.
  2. Remove the cap from the pen.
  3. Check Your Insulin Carefully.  Bad insulin can lead to high blood glucose levels.  Insulin does not have to be kept refrigerated but it lasts longer when it is.  All insulin should be discarded after the expiration date or 30 days after it was opened and pierced with a syringe, whichever is sooner.  Insulin that has been frozen or exposed to any heat source should also be thrown out.
    • Insulin types that should look clear, like water:
      • The rapid-acting insulins should be clear and colorless like water. These are lispro (sold as Humalog) and aspart (sold as Novolog).  Short-acting insulin (Regular) insulin and insulin glargine (Lantus) a longer-acting insulin should also be clear, like water. 
      • Long-acting insulin should have a cloudy or milk look.  These include NPH, Lente, and Ultralente.
    • If the insulin does not look right, do not use it.  Instead, use a new insulin cartridge or a new disposable pen.
  4. Attach a needle to your pen. You should follow the specific directions that came with your pen for attaching the needle. Do not leave needles attached between shots.  This permits air to enter the needle which will interfere with correct dosing, or call allow insulin to leak out.
  5. Mix the insulin. Roll the insulin pen between the palms of your hands or tip it back and forth gently at least 20 times to mix the insulin.
  6. Prime your pen.  Priming your pen simply means making sure that insulin has actually filled the syrine to the tip.  Holding your pen upright (needle pointing straight up) tap it to help any air bubbles rise to the top so that they can be ejected.  You can tell if your pen is properly primed and no air bubbles are in the needle by doing an "air shot"  That is, simply shoot some insulin into the air, a drop or two will do just fine.
  7. If nothing comes out, do one more air shot. If insulin still doesn't come out of the needle, your pen may be low on insulin, or the needle may not be connected properly. Refer to the directions that come with your pen for troubleshooting tips.
  8. Set your dose. Dial your insulin pen to deliver the amount insulin you need to take (it should click as you turn the dial.)


Your pen is now loaded and ready to use!  And you can move on to the next section, "Injecting Insulin."  



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Page Updated 08/12/2006