Smart Insulin Pens: The Easiest Way to Manage Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease where the body is unable to regulate blood sugar levels due to an inability to produce or effectively use insulin. Staying on top of diabetes can be expensive, time-consuming, and involve using a lot of equipment. Modern medical advances aim to change that with devices like continuous glucose monitors and smart insulin pens.

Key takeaways:

What is diabetes?

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Diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, is a chronic disease in which the glucose (sugar) levels in the blood are elevated. Most food we consume is turned into glucose, the body's energy source, and is released into the bloodstream.

This increase in blood sugar tells the pancreas to release insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels by allowing glucose to enter cells throughout the body to be used as energy. In addition, excess sugar is stored by insulin in our muscles and liver in the form of glucose molecule chains called glycogen. When our body needs a boost of energy, or we don't take enough glucose from the food, glycogen breaks down into many glucose molecules that are then again released in the bloodstream and available to cells as a source of energy.

People with diabetes either don’t make enough insulin or the body doesn’t use available insulin efficiently, causing excess glucose to stay in the bloodstream, also known as hyperglycemia. Without treatment, diabetes can lead to serious immediate and long-term health complications like vision loss, and kidney and cardiovascular disease.

Symptoms of diabetes

Many people are unaware of the potential symptoms of impaired blood glucose levels that can come with diabetes. The most common ones include excessive thirst, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss, fatigue and exhaustion, severe hunger, sudden vision disturbances, lack of concentration, dry skin, slow-healing wounds, and more frequent infections than usual.

In the case of type 2 diabetes, many people don't realize they're experiencing symptoms, which is why it takes an average of 5–7 years after the onset of the disease before they receive a diagnosis. In type 1 diabetes, the disease appears suddenly. Diabetes treatment depends on the type that you have but typically includes monitoring glucose levels, and taking insulin or non-insulin medication, while maintaining a healthy lifestyle by avoiding smoking and alcohol, getting regular physical activity, practicing a low GI and low-fat diet, and maintaining a healthy body weight to lower the chances of future health complications.

Types of diabetes

There are three main types of diabetes:

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  1. Type 1 diabetes. Thought to be an autoimmune condition that keeps the pancreas from making insulin and is typically diagnosed in kids, teens, and young adults.
  2. Type 2 diabetes. The pancreas has difficulty regulating blood sugar and using insulin efficiently. It is influenced by lifestyle factors and is more commonly diagnosed in adults.
  3. Gestational diabetes. A type of diabetes in pregnant people who have never previously been diagnosed as diabetic, this usually goes away at the end of pregnancy.

Diabetes treatment depends on your type, but typically includes maintaining a healthy lifestyle, monitoring glucose levels, and taking insulin or non-insulin medication.

Types of insulin pens

One of the ways to effectively manage diabetes medication is by using smart insulin pens. Traditional insulin pens were developed as an alternative to vials and syringes. Many still require tracking and calculations. Smart insulin pens have changed that. Here are all three types of insulin pens that you can get:

  1. Data tracking caps. The first evolution of a smart pen was a data-tracking cap that could be attached to the top of insulin pens. This minimizes complications from diabetes and improves overall care. Pen caps are available for both long and rapid-acting insulin pens.
  2. Disposable insulin pens. Disposable pens are preloaded with insulin and can be used until the insulin cartridge is empty or has been in use until the end of its shelf-life.
  3. Smart insulin pens. The first FDA-approved smart insulin pen was released in 2017. The InPen uses Bluetooth technology to streamline blood sugar management and insulin administration. These pens have built-in insulin dosing calculators.

What is a smart insulin pen?

Managing diabetes involves calculating blood sugar levels, insulin intake, meal size, and other variables. This can involve a lot of math, which can be challenging when experiencing diabetes symptoms.

Smart insulin pens are reusable injector pens for delivering vital diabetes medication. While diabetes can still be difficult to manage, these devices make it a little easier by doing the math for you.

They work in tandem with an intuitive smartphone app, so insulin delivery is more manageable. Smart insulin pens contain prefilled cartridges and can be used as an alternative to disposable pens, vials, or as an add-on to other insulin pens.

Diabetes medication is expensive in many countries, but technologies like the smart pen make life-saving insulin more accessible. They are typically easier to use and more affordable than other forms of insulin medication.

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How does a smart insulin pen work?

Although insulin is a potentially life-saving medication, it can be challenging to monitor and dose effectively. Those with diabetes often have difficulty calculating their doses, leading them to take more insulin when they still have some from their previous dose, known as stacking. This can cause low blood sugar and hypoglycemia.

By syncing with a smartphone, smart insulin pens can calculate and track doses based on your current blood sugar level. These doses consider settings prescribed by your doctor, any insulin still active in your system, meal size, and carbohydrate intake.

Smart insulin pens keep you from missing doses by sending reports, alerts, and reminders to your smartphone or watch and sending data to your care team. They can also help prolong the shelf-life of your insulin by letting you know if it’s exceeded its temperature range or has expired.

Insulin pen options: InPen

Medtronic’s InPen has paved the way for diabetes technology. This reusable smart insulin pen uses Bluetooth technology that connects to an app on your smartphone with a built-in dosing calculator, carb counting support, and a digital logbook to help streamline diabetes management and medication.

Here are some key details about the InPen:

  • Without insurance, InPens start at about $896.45.
  • Reusable InPens can be used for up to a year.
  • It can be used with both long and short-acting insulin.
  • The InPen can be used with several types of insulin, including Lilly Humalog, Novo Nordisk, Novolog, and Novo Nordisk Fiasp.
  • You can get an InPen by prescription from your healthcare provider.
  • The pen does not include insulin cartridges and must be obtained with a separate prescription.
  • They can be used as a backup to an insulin pump.

The InPen is compatible with specific continuous glucose monitors to help manage your diabetes easier. If you have multiple pens at home, school, or work, you can streamline your diabetes care by syncing them to the app.

How do you use an InPen insulin pen

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People who use insulin pens must know the proper dose to inject, when to inject, and the quality of their insulin, which can be affected by storage conditions, expiration dates, and temperature. You will also need needles along with your pen and insulin. The InPen is compatible with BD Ultra Fine™ and Novo Nordisk NovoFine® needles.

To use the InPen, you’ll need to:

  1. Prepare the pen.
  2. Prime your pen.
  3. Calculate your dose.
  4. Select your dose.
  5. Inject the dose.
  6. Correctly dispose of the needle and store your pen.

For more detailed instructions on how to use an InPen, you can refer to the Medtronic website.

Technology in diabetes management: what else is out there?

Using a smart insulin pen can be more expensive initially, but over time can save money as replacement cartridges are cheaper than disposable pens. They also can save time, frustration, and complications from diabetes management.

Smart pens are not the only resources available for diabetes management. Here are some other tools you can discuss with your healthcare provider.

  • Continuous glucose monitors (CGM)
  • Insulin pumps that attach to your body
  • Closed loop systems that connect insulin pumps with a CGM

Finding the right diabetes treatment plan depends on your healthcare needs, lifestyle, and what is available. Your healthcare provider can help answer any questions you may have.

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