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Insulin devices

4-minute read

Many people with diabetes use insulin.

A range of devices can be used to deliver doses of insulin to the body. These include:

  • insulin pens
  • insulin pumps
  • insulin jets
  • syringes

What are insulin pens?

Insulin pens look similar to a fountain pen, and are supplied either pre-filled or with refillable insulin cartridges. The required dose of insulin is automatically measured and delivered by a needle attached to the pen.

Insulin pens come in a variety of different types, but most work in the same way.

  • If you have a reusable insulin pen, insert an insulin cartridge and dial the right dose.
  • If you are using a disposable insulin pen, dial the right dose, give yourself the injection, then dispose of the pen in a sharps bin.

Tips for using your insulin pen

  • If insulin leaks or spills when you are using your pen, do not take another dose. Monitor your blood sugar level until your next dose is due, then continue to take your insulin as normal.
  • Never inject through clothing — this can cause soreness and infection. It also blocks your view of the injection site, making it hard to tell if the injection has been successful or not.
  • Prime (prepare) your pen before using it by dialling in a very small dose of insulin and then expelling (ejecting) it into the air. Then dial in your correct dose and inject. This ensures the needle is working before use and makes sure no air bubbles are injected into your skin.
  • To avoid insulin leakage, pinch your skin, inject the needle, and then slowly remove the needle at the same angle at which you put it in. Press the injection site for a few seconds to stop any insulin leaking out.
  • Remove the needle from the pen immediately after use and safely dispose of in the sharps bin.

Avoiding problems with your insulin pen

  • Always keep your pen separate from the needles until you need to use it — do not carry the pen around loaded with a needle.
  • Make sure you have a spare insulin pen in case yours breaks or gets lost. If you have to use the spare, make sure you replace it immediately.
  • Never attempt to use a pen that is not working properly — use your spare instead. If you don’t have one, contact your doctor or diabetes nurse or educator for advice.

What are insulin pumps?

Insulin pumps (also known as continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion, or CSII) are devices worn on the body 24 hours a day. They automatically deliver a continuous dose of insulin according to your needs.

The pump works with an ‘infusion set’, which helps the insulin enter your body. This is made up of some thin plastic tubing, an adhesive (sticky) patch, and a small needle-like device called a cannula. Infusion sets need changing regularly — usually every 3 days.

An insulin pump does not monitor your blood sugar level. You need to use diabetes testing equipment to do this.

The insulin that the pump uses is fast-acting, and disappears from your body quickly once the pump is disconnected. If this happens, your blood sugar level will start to rise, and you may be at risk of hyperglycaemia.

Tips for using your insulin pump

  • If you need to disconnect your pump, make sure it is back in place within one hour.
  • Move your cannula site (the place on your body where the cannula goes) regularly, to avoid too much scar tissue developing.
  • If your pump is leaking insulin, or you notice damp patches on your clothes, change to a new infusion set.
  • If your pump is not working properly, contact the manufacturer and your diabetes nurse or educator for advice.

What are insulin jets?

Insulin jets are a needle-free method of delivering insulin to your body. This can be useful for people who don’t like needles, or are unable to use needles. You draw the insulin into the nozzle and it is delivered at high speed so it penetrates your skin.

What are syringes?

Syringes used to be the standard way to inject insulin into the body. These days, this method is far less common than using insulin pens, which are generally more convenient and easier to use.

Avoiding problems with your syringe

  • If insulin leaks or spills when you are injecting, do not take another dose. Monitor your blood sugar level until your next dose of insulin is due, and then take that as normal.
  • Make sure you keep a good supply of needles and syringes that are working properly.
  • Always dispose of your needles and syringes safely in a sharps bin.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2019

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