Anyone with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes is probably familiar with insulin injections, although maybe not through the same method. Some are familiar with insulin pens, which require the insulin pen itself also insulin pen needles while others are more familiar with insulin pumps. There are benefits and drawbacks to both, and it ultimately comes down to your individual situation.
Insulin pens are likely what everyone thinks about when they hear the words “insulin injection.” It’s a pen-shaped injector fairly similar to an Epipen with a needle and dial. The needle is disposable and should be replaced after every three-to-four injections, and the dial controls the dose size from the pen itself. Once the dose is set on the pen with the dial, insulin can then be injected.
There is a “background” dose that is injected to keep the base blood sugar level even, but additional injections have to be taken every time a person eats or drinks. The size of those doses depends on the amount of food or drink consumed, but it has to be done every time, and done very carefully, or your blood sugar can skyrocket if too much sugar is taken in, or plummet if there is too much insulin.
Insulin pens have their benefits, such as a cheaper price, the injection itself is much easier to do, and you never have to worry about leaving home (as long as you remember to bring the pen with you with a needle attached, there’s really no way for a pen to fail unless it breaks, which even a pump is at risk of.)
In terms of downsides, insulin pens aren’t a “one and done” kind of application. The background dose keeps your blood sugar more or less even, but it has to be taken at the same time every day. The pen itself needs to be used multiple times a day, usually in conjunction with eating or drinking, since the food or drink will alter your blood sugar significantly.
Insulin pumps are small devices (usually the size of a deck of cards) that are either attached to your body with some adhesive, or connects to a tube surgically inserted in your body. The pump itself rests outside the skin and electronically controls and injects insulin into the body without requiring work from the person wearing it.
This means that the pumps do not require any manual work, as they control a person’s base blood sugar level and keep a slow, steady stream of insulin flowing at all times. They do have a way of taking a manual dose if you eat a larger meal or simply need extra insulin due to a sugary meal; input the amount of carbs you’ve eaten, and it will automatically inject the right amount of insulin.
Insulin pumps benefit from being almost completely automatic. They do require some work to set-up properly, but once set require very little work from the person using it, except to change out the insulin cartridge it uses and manual dosing themself if they need to. The background dose is more normal since it happens throughout the day and is carefully measured to what your body needs as opposed to being one big dose that slowly releases over the course of the day.
For all their benefits, pumps also suffer from a number of drawbacks that mean they aren’t necessarily for everyone. First and foremost, they’re considerably more expensive, can be uncomfortable to wear during the day, and are prone to more mechanical failures in the tubing or air bubbles in the insulin cartridge.
While diabetics have no choice but to take insulin, they do have a choice in how that insulin is delivered. Neither of the options here are perfect, and a benefit for one person could be a drawback for another. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to insulin injections, but there are options, which are almost as good.