Syringes vs. Pens vs. Smart Pens: Pros and Cons
Editor’s Note: People who take insulin require consistently affordable and predictable sources of insulin at all times. If you or a loved one are struggling to afford or access insulin, you can build custom plans based on your personal circumstances through our tool, GetInsulin.org.
Today, there are a variety of ways to take your insulin. You can use a:
- Smart Pen (which has a device on the pen to track your insulin doses, usually in an accompanying smartphone app)
- Insulin Pump—tubed or patch
In this article, we’ll explain the non-pump methods of taking insulin to help you determine which method is right for you and your type 1 diabetes management. Talk to your healthcare team about any changes you’d like to make to your insulin management regimen!
Syringes and Vials
How to give yourself an insulin shot with a syringe:
Draw air into the syringe equal to the amount of insulin to be injected. Then, in a straight up-and-down position, insert the needle in the vial and push the air into the vial. Turn the syringe and vial upside down and draw the amount of insulin needed. Afterward, inject the insulin into an area as directed by your healthcare provider.
- Some syringes allow you to mix insulin types, if it is safe to do so as directed by your healthcare team
- Less expensive than pens and smartpens
- Vary in size, gauge and length
- Syringes are easily available, may not require a prescription to obtain and are covered by most insurance plans
- Typically marked in 2-unit increments, which can make it hard for people who need to take odd-numbered dosages
- The marked increments can be difficult to read for people with vision troubles
- Have to carry the syringe and vial with you when traveling or outside of the home
How to give yourself an insulin shot with a pen:
Attach the insulin pen needle to the insulin pen, adjust the dial to the units of insulin needed, and inject insulin into an area according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.
- Already pre-filled, with enough insulin to last for many injections
- Don’t need to carry syringe needles and vials which could make it more convenient to take insulin
- Fewer steps to inject insulin compared to a syringe
- Allows for more accurate dosing
- More discreet than syringes and vials
- More expensive than a syringe, depending on health insurance coverage
- Can’t mix insulin, but some pens come with premixed insulin
- Can be easily misplaced/lost
- Still need to purchase insulin pen needles separately.
- Not all insulins are available in pen form
How to give yourself an insulin shot with a smart pen:
This method is similar to insulin pens, but specific instructions depend on the manufacturer/device. You may have to download the app associated with the smart pen to get the best function out of it.
- Some smart pen devices are reusable and only need a replaceable cartridge.
- Some devices are available as caps that attach to regular insulin pens to aid in insulin dosage tracking.
- Smart pen devices are bluetooth-enabled, so doses can be automatically logged in an app.
- Accompanying apps sometimes have a carb calculator to tell users how much insulin needs to be taken per meal, which removes the guesswork.
- The app can also record how much insulin you are actually using.
- Can help you determine insulin-to-carb ratios and glucose corrections factors.
- Helps prevent insulin stacking (accidentally taking too much insulin at one time because of an accidental double dose or just forgetting how much insulin you’ve already given yourself for another reason).
- Some insulin pens last up to a year on a single battery.
- Can be expensive, but depends on health insurance coverage
- Requires the motivation or ability to use or learn new technologies
- Not yet widely available for continuous glucose monitor (CGM) data integration
- Can be easily misplaced/lost
- Still need to purchase insulin pen needles separately
- Not all types of insulin are compatible with smart pens.
Decide Which One Works for You
In the end, you should decide which method works best for you. Those factors may depend on:
- Your budget
- Insurance coverage
- Personal diabetes health goals
- Preference for insulin injections over insulin pumps
However, before deciding and spending money on a specific method or type of smart pen, speak with your healthcare provider to learn which one is most suitable for you and your diabetes management.
This content was made possible with support from Lilly Diabetes, an active partner of Beyond Type 1 at the time of publication. Beyond Type 1 maintains full editorial control of all content published on our platforms.