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Insulin Delivery Systems: An Overview

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WebMD Feature

You need insulin to control your diabetes. But there are a few decisions you and your doctor still need to make, including how that insulin is delivered.

Insulin delivery options include pens, syringes, pumps, jet injectors, and even an inhaler.

Choosing an Insulin Delivery System

"Very often the choice is determined by what their insurance will pay for," says Vivian Fonseca, MD, professor of medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine.

Your insurance company may only pay for one type of insulin delivery system. If you want a different option, you'll have to pay for it on your own.

Aside from your insurance coverage, your choice should be based on which insulin delivery system you feel most comfortable with, Fonseca says.

"There are people who handle syringes better than others," he says. "And while many do well with pumps, some patients either don't like them or don't manage to use them effectively."

Insulin Syringes

You use an insulin syringe to inject insulin into your bloodstream with a very fine needle.

Pros:

Flexibility. You can choose from different types of needles and syringes. You can also use them with just about any kind of insulin.

Cost savings. Syringes cost about $10 to $15 for a box of 100 syringes, and they're more likely than other delivery systems to be covered by your insurance.

Cons:

Time. "The real problem with the syringe is the amount of steps you have to take," Fonseca says. Before injecting you need to fill the syringe with air, attach the needle, and draw the correct dose of insulin into the syringe.  

Dosing mistakes. "The syringe is totally manual, and it possibly leads to more errors," Fonseca says. It's up to you to make sure you're injecting the right dose.

Insulin Pens

An insulin pen works much like a syringe, but it looks like the type of pen you use to write. Insulin pens come in disposable and reusable versions.

Disposable pens come pre-filled with insulin. Reusable pens use a cartridge filled with insulin.

Pros:

Ease and convenience.  To use an insulin pen, you just dial up the insulin dose on the pen. Then you press a plunger at one end to inject the insulin through a needle at the other end.  

Memory storage. Insulin pens have a handy memory feature that will remind you how much insulin you took and when you took it.

Cons:

Expense. Insulin pens cost slightly more than syringes (about $30 - $40 a pen) and many insurance companies won't cover the cost.

Lack of options. Some types of insulin aren't available in pen form.

Insulin Pump

An insulin pump is a device that's about the size as a pager. You wear it on your belt or in a pocket. It delivers a steady stream of insulin to your body 24 hours a day through a needle attached to a flexible plastic tube. Whenever you eat, you press a button on the pump to give yourself an extra boost of insulin, called a bolus.  

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If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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