Should you use an insulin pen or an insulin syringe?

If you’re among the more than 34 million Americans living with diabetes, you already know the importance of sticking to your doctor-prescribed medication and treatment plan. It’s how we avoid serious diabetes-related complications, including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, nerve damage and a host of other conditions.

Everyone with Type 1 diabetes and the majority of those with Type 2 diabetes have to take insulin treatments to help control blood sugar. While new technologies, such as the insulin pump and patch devices, provide alternatives, most people still rely on injecting insulin. The question is how? Do you do it using the vial and syringe method? Or do you use an insulin pen?

There is no right or wrong answer. However, there are things to consider when choosing the method that works best for you. In this post, we’ll look into the pros and cons of both insulin syringes and insulin pens, while reminding you to never make any changes to your diabetes treatment plan without first consulting with your diabetes physician.

How Insulin Syringes Work

A good place to start is to briefly touch on how each insulin delivery system works. When using an insulin syringe the basic process is as follows:

  1. First, the user draws air into the syringe equal to the amount of insulin to be injected.
  1. Next, with the vial in an upright position, the needle is inserted into the vial and the syringe is pressed to release the air into the vial. It’s important to note that syringes and needles come in different sizes. Determining the right combination for your needs is something you should determine with your doctor and care team.
  1. The vial with the syringe needle still inserted is turned upside down and the correct amount of insulin is drawn into the vial.
  1. The insulin is injected into a sterilized area as recommended by a diabetes physician.

How Insulin Pens Work

There are two types of insulin pens - disposable and reusable. Disposable pens come filled with a pre-determined amount of insulin. Once that insulin is gone, the pen is discarded. Reusable pens are equipped with cartridges than can be replaced, so only the cartridge is disposed of, and the pen is reused. Either way, the basic process to administer insulin is the same.

  1. Mix insulin by gently rolling the pen between the palms of the hand and then wash hands thoroughly.
  1. Remove the pen cap and attach the appropriate pen needle. It’s important to note that these needles will need to be replaced for each dosage and determining the right need size is something you should determine with your doctor and care team.
  1. Simply, turn the dial on the pen to the correct dosage and inject into a sterilized area. 

Insulin Syringes - The Pros and Cons

Okay, so now let’s get into some of the advantages and challenges of using insulin syringes.

The Pros

First and foremost, syringes are the most affordable way to administer insulin. They’re always easy to find, often don’t require a prescription, and are covered by the majority of insurance plans. Those are all very big advantages.

Additionally, syringes make it easy to mix insulin, which is an important plus for anyone whose treatment program requires more than one type.

The Cons

Perhaps the biggest downside of insulin syringes has to do with accuracy. Most syringes are marked in 2-unit increments. This means people who require odd numbered dosages are forced to “eyeball” the units. Now if a person takes a substantial amount of insulin each day, say 60 to 80 units, then being a little off might not matter all that much. However, if a person takes less than 20 units per day that little inconsistency can make a bigger difference.

Another way insulin syringes are less advantageous revolves around convenience and discretion. A user must carry both an insulin vial and syringe throughout the day, plus carefully draw out the right amount of insulin at each treatment period. It can be hard to do this in public without attracting at least a modicum of attention. Granted, injecting insulin is no big deal. Still, some people prefer to do so with more discretion than others, and this can be hard with the syringe method.

Insulin Pens - Pros and Cons

Insulin pens were created as a more user-friendly alternative to insulin syringes. However, that doesn’t automatically mean they are right for you.

The Pros

The biggest advantage of insulin pens is increased blood sugar control due to the ability to dial up a precisely accurate dosage every time. Additionally, the cartridge of a pen is pre-filled with insulin, so there’s no need to draw from a vial, which also reduces the human error factor. For these reasons, insulin pens can be great alternatives for older individuals, those with dexterity issues, or anyone who might have difficulty reading the small measurements printed on most vials and syringes.

Additionally, pens are far more convenient than syringes. They fit easily in a purse and there is no need to carry a separate vial. So, taking your dosage in public can be done without anyone noticing.

The Cons

Insulin pens are more expensive than syringes. Plus, while most insurance carriers cover syringes, pens can be a little more perplexing. Some plans cover them, others don’t. There are also insurance plans that cover only certain manufacturers, which might not include the insulin pen your doctor recommends. So cost is certainly a factor to consider.

Additionally, you cannot mix insulin using a pen. Some pens do offer pre-mixed insulin options, but not all. Also, unlike syringes which are sold with needles, you will need to purchase separate pen needles. Shopping online can save you a fair amount, still pen needles can range in price from about $15 for a box of 100 to around $50, depending on the brand.

The Insulin Smart Pen

It’s worth noting that in recent years the development of the insulin smart pen is being hailed as a new diabetes management breakthrough. Think of smart pens as a cross between standard insulin pens and Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) devices. These pens use a compatible smartphone app to calculate doses based on current blood sugar level, meal sizes, carbohydrates, and active insulin. They also track insulin injections by date, time and dosage amount, as well as provide reminders and alerts, so you don’t miss a treatment. Smart pens can also store treatment data, so it’s easy to share with your diabetes physician and care team. You’ll still need to purchase separate pen needles and there are insurance considerations, as smart pens are far more expensive than standard insulin pens or syringes. We’re not going to get into too much detail on smart pens in this post, but depending on your individual diabetes situation, they might be worth bringing up with your diabetes physician.

So, What’s Right for Me?

This is a question you and your diabetes care team must answer together. Chances are, your decision will come down to budgetary parameters, how much insulin you require each day, your age, insurance coverage, and other factors. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to insulin treatments. The only way to make sure you make the right choice for the best possible outcome is to work closely with your physician and care team.


We hope you found this post helpful and a good starting point to discuss your insulin plan with your doctor. At Diabetic Warehouse, we understand that regular blood sugar testing and proper treatment are vital to lowering your risk of diabetes-related health complications. We’re committed to making it easier and more affordable with an online selection of diabetic supplies at prices up to 65% less than pharmacies and other suppliers.


We hope you found these tips helpful. At Diabetic Warehouse, we’re committed to helping you better manage your diabetes by keeping you informed with the latest news and tips on living with the disease. We’re also committed to saving you up to 65% on doctor-recommended diabetic supplies.

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