(BlackDoctor.org) — Many people who take insulin to manage their diabetes
inject the insulin with a needle and syringe that delivers insulin just under
the skin. Several other devices for taking insulin are available, and new
approaches are under development. For more information about insulin, see
Medicines for People with Diabetes.
Injection aids are devices that help users give injections with needles and
syringes through the use of spring-loaded syringe holders or stabilizing guides.
Many of these aids use push-button systems to administer the injection.
Insulin pens can be helpful if you want the convenience of carrying insulin
with you in a discreet way. An insulin pen looks like a pen with a cartridge.
Some of these devices use replaceable cartridges of insulin; other pen models
are totally disposable. A short, fine needle, similar to the needle on an
insulin syringe, is on the tip of the pen. Users turn a dial to select the
desired dose of insulin and press a plunger on the end to deliver the insulin
just under the skin.
Insulin jet injectors send a fine spray of insulin through the skin by a
high-pressure air mechanism instead of needles.
Subcutaneous infusion sets, also called insulin infusers, provide an
alternative to injections. A catheter (a flexible hollow tube) is inserted into
the tissue just beneath the skin and remains in place for several days. Insulin
is then injected into the infuser instead of through the skin.
External insulin pumps are devices that deliver insulin through narrow,
flexible plastic tubing that ends with a needle inserted just under the skin
near the abdomen. The insulin pump is about the size of a deck of cards, weighs
about 3 ounces, and can be worn on a belt or carried in a pocket. Users set the
pump to give a steady trickle or “basal” amount of insulin continuously
throughout the day. Pumps release “bolus” doses of insulin (several units at a
time) at meals and at times when blood glucose is too high based on the
programming set entered by the user. They also can be programmed to release
smaller amounts of insulin throughout the day. Frequent blood glucose monitoring
is essential to determine insulin dosages and to ensure that insulin is
Approaches Under Development
Implantable insulin pumps are surgically implanted under the skin of the
abdomen. The pump delivers small amounts of insulin throughout the day and extra
amounts before meals or snacks. Users can control doses with a remote control
unit that prompts the pump to give the specified amount of insulin. The pump is
refilled with insulin every 2 to 3 months.
The insulin patch, placed on the skin, provides a continuous low dose of
insulin. Because it’s difficult to overcome the skin’s barriers, delivery of
insulin through the skin is aided with sound waves or an electrical current.
Insulin pills provide insulin in tablet form. Researchers are working on ways
to get the insulin into the bloodstream before it is changed by normal digestive
Researchers are investigating delivering insulin as a spray. A buccal spray
delivers liquid insulin into the mouth. Insulin is then absorbed through the
tongue, throat, and inside of the cheeks. An intranasal spray delivers insulin
as a nose spray.
An artificial pancreas, a surgically implanted device, imitates the action of
the pancreas by sensing blood glucose levels and secreting insulin in response.
The user also can release insulin using a remote control.
Additional Information on Alternative Devices for
The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse collects resource information
on diabetes for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney
Diseases (NIDDK) Reference Collection. This database provides titles, abstracts,
and availability information for health information and health education
resources. The NIDDK Reference Collection is a service of the National
Institutes of Health.
To provide you with the most up-to-date resources, information specialists at
the clearinghouse created an automatic search of the NIDDK Reference Collection.
To obtain this information, you may view the results of the automatic search on
Alternative Devices for Taking Insulin.
If you wish to perform your own search of the database, you may access and
search the NIDDK Reference Collection database online.