How to Use an Insulin Pen

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Using Insulin for Diabetes

People with diabetes sometimes need insulin to help lower their blood glucose. Insulin is an injectable medication that requires patients to give themselves daily shots. In the past, people with diabetes had to learn to draw insulin from a vial into a syringe, but new insulin pens have made that process much easier. While many patients still use insulin vials and syringes, some have learned how to use an insulin pen for their diabetes treatment. Though more expensive than traditional vials, patients with vision problems or conditions like arthritis often find the insulin pens much easier to use.

Types of Pens

Several different types of insulin are available in pen form. These include:

Short-acting insulin

  • Humalog Kwik Pen
  • Novolog Flex Pen
  • Apidra Solostar Pen

Intermediate-acting insulin

  • Humalog Mix 75/25
  • Humalog Mix 50/50
  • Novolog Mix 70/30

Long-acting (basal) insulin

  • Lantus Solostar Pen
  • Levemir FlexPen

Supplies Needed for Pen Use

Each insulin pen works slightly differently, but there are basic guidelines for dosing and usage. Patients with diabetes should read the guide provided for information on how to use their specific insulin pen. Basic supplies needed for insulin injection with a pen include:

  • alcohol swabs or cotton balls soaked with rubbing alcohol
  • prefilled insulin pen
  • insulin pen needles
  • bandage, if needed
  • sharps container

Assembling the Pen

  1. Remove the plastic cap from the insulin pen.
  2. Inspect the insulin in the pen to insure there are no floating substances.
  3. Swab the rubber stopper on the pen with an alcohol swab or cotton ball soaked with rubbing alcohol.
  4. Remove the protective paper tab from the insulin needle. Be sure to use a new needle for each injection.
  5. Twist the needle onto the end of the pen.
  6. Remove the plastic outer needle covering. Save for later.
  7. Remove the inner needle covering and discard.

Priming the Pen

The insulin pen needs to be primed before each use to remove air from the pen. This helps to insure the patient receives the proper dose. This is also known as giving an airshot and is a simple process:

  1. Dial the insulin dose to 2 units using the dial at the end of the pen opposite the needle.
  2. Push the dose knob at the end of the pen and hold while slowly counting to five.
  3. A small stream or bubble of insulin should appear at the tip of the needle.
  4. If the insulin does not appear, repeat the priming process.
  5. Lay the pen down while preparing the injection site.

Preparing the Injection Site

Insulin is injected into fat located just under the skin. The best areas for injection are the abdomen, inner thigh or upper arm. For most patients, it is easiest to give an injection into the abdomen. Avoid the area approximately one inch from the belly button as the insulin will not absorb as efficiently there.

  1. Select the site for injection.
  2. Pinch up an area of skin between the thumb and first finger.
  3. Swab with alcohol. Allow to airdry to prevent burning during the injection.
  4. It’s important to use a different site for each injection to prevent scar tissue from building up. Some patients will give one shot on the right, then one on the left. Others may just move the area over 1/4 or 1/2 inch away from the site of the previous injection. Either method is appropriate.

Giving an Injection with an Insulin Pen

Now that the site is ready, the insulin injection may be given.

  1. Dial the prescribed dose of insulin by turning the dose knob at the bottom of the pen. For example, if the dose is 10 units, turn the knob until the number 10 appears in the pen window.
  2. Pinch up the skin at the prepared site.
  3. Insert the needle into the area.
  4. Push the dose knob with the thumb and hold, counting to five slowly.
  5. Remove the needle from the skin.
  6. Place the large, outer needle cover over the needle.
  7. Twist the needle off of the pen and discard in a sharps container. Needles should never be left on the pen for storage.
  8. Replace cap on pen and store.
  9. Place bandage over injection site if desired.

Once all of the insulin is used, the pen may be discarded. Patients with questions regarding how to use insulin pens should contact their prescriber or pharmacist.


Levemir Prescribing Info. Novo Nordisk. Accessed October 13, 2010.

Humalog KwikPen Prescribing Info. Eli Lilly and Co. Accessed October 13, 2010.

BD Diabetes Info. Becton, Dickinson and Co. Accessed October 13, 2010.