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Alternative Devices for Taking Insulin

Many people with diabetes must take insulin to manage their disease. Most people who take insulin use a needle and syringe to inject insulin just under the skin. Several other devices for taking insulin are available and new approaches are under development. No matter which approach a person uses for taking insulin, consistent monitoring of blood glucose levels is important. Good blood glucose control can prevent complications of diabetes.

Drawing of a needle and syringe for injecting insulin.
Most people who take insulin use a needle and syringe to inject insulin just under the skin.

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What alternative devices for taking insulin are available?

Insulin pens provide a convenient, easy-to-use way of injecting insulin and may be less painful than a standard needle and syringe. An insulin pen looks like a pen with a cartridge. Some of these devices use replaceable cartridges of insulin. Other pens are prefilled with insulin and are totally disposable after the insulin is injected. Insulin pen users screw a short, fine, disposable needle on the tip of the pen before an injection. Then users turn a dial to select the desired dose of insulin, inject the needle, and press a plunger on the end to deliver the insulin just under the skin. Insulin pens are less widely used in the United States than in many other countries.

Drawing of several types of insulin pens. One of the pens has a needle attached.
Insulin pens are a convenient alternative to a needle and syringe for insulin injections.

External insulin pumps are typically about the size of a deck of cards or cell phone, weigh about 3 ounces, and can be worn on a belt or carried in a pocket. Most pumps use a disposable plastic cartridge as an insulin reservoir. A needle and plunger are temporarily attached to the cartridge to allow the user to fill the cartridge with insulin from a vial. The user then removes the needle and plunger and loads the filled cartridge into the pump.

Drawing of female torso with an insulin pump and infusion set. The pump has buttons and a screen and is clipped to the woman's skirt. Narrow tubing connects the insulin pump to the infusion set attached to the abdomen. The infusion set has a round adhesive patch on the skin covering a cannula inserted under the skin. The infusion set, tubing, and insulin pump are labeled.
Insulin pumps contain enough insulin for several days. An infusion set carries insulin from the pump to the body through flexible plastic tubing and a soft tube or needle inserted under the skin.

Disposable infusion sets are used with insulin pumps to deliver insulin to an infusion site on the body, such as the abdomen. Infusion sets include a cannula—a needle or a small, soft tube—that the user inserts into the tissue beneath the skin. Devices are available to help insert the cannula. Narrow, flexible plastic tubing carries insulin from the pump to the infusion site. On the skin's surface, an adhesive patch or dressing holds the infusion set in place until the user replaces it after a few days.

Users set the pumps to give a steady trickle or "basal" amount of insulin continuously throughout the day. Pumps can also give "bolus" doses—one-time larger doses—of insulin at meals and at times when blood glucose is too high based on the programming set by the user. Frequent blood glucose monitoring is essential to determine insulin dosages and to ensure that insulin is delivered.

Injection ports provide an alternative to daily injections. Injection ports look like infusion sets without the long tubing. Like infusion sets, injection ports have a cannula that is inserted into the tissue beneath the skin. On the skin's surface, an adhesive patch or dressing holds the port in place. The user injects insulin through the port with a needle and syringe or an insulin pen. The port remains in place for several days and is then replaced. Use of an injection port allows a person to reduce the number of skin punctures to one every few days to apply a new port.

Drawing of a person injecting insulin with a needle and syringe through an injection port attached to the abdomen. The port has a round adhesive patch covering a cannula inserted under the skin.
Using an injection port reduces the number of skin punctures to one every few days to apply a new port. The user injects insulin through the port.

Injection aids are devices that help users give injections with needles and syringes through the use of spring-loaded syringe holders or stabilizing guides. Many injection aids have a button the user pushes to inject the insulin.

Insulin jet injectors send a fine spray of insulin into the skin at high pressure instead of using a needle to deliver the insulin.

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 Source: http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/insulin

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