Syringes vs. Pens vs. Smart Pens: Pros and Cons


 2021-07-09

Today, there are a variety of ways to take your insulin. You can use a: 

  • Syringe
  • Pen 
  • SmartPen 
  • Disposable Insulin “Patch” Pumps

Learn more about insulin pumps and patches here. In this article, we’ll explain the non-pump methods of taking insulin to help you determine which method is right for you and your type 2 diabetes management needs. Talk to your healthcare team about any changes you’d like to make to your insulin management regimen!

Syringes and Vials

How It Works: 

Uses a syringe to draw insulin from a vial before injection by drawing air into the syringe equal to the amount of insulin to be injected.

Then, in an upright position, insert the needle in the vial and push the air into the vial. Turn the syringe and vial upside down and draw the amount of insulin needed. Afterwards, inject the insulin into an area as directed by your healthcare provider.

Pros: 

  • Some syringes allow you to mix insulin 
  • Less expensive than pens and smartpens 
  • Vary in size, gauge and length 
  • Syringes are easily available and may not require a prescription to obtain and are covered by most insurance plans.

Cons: 

  • Typically marked in two-unit increments, which can make it hard for people who need to take odd-numbered dosages.
  • The marked increments can be difficult to read for people with vision troubles.
  • Have to carry the syringe and vial with you when traveling or outside of the home. 

Insulin Pens

How It Works: 

Attach the insulin pen needle to the insulin pen, adjust the dial to the units of insulin needed and inject insulin into an area according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.

Pros: 

  • Already pre-filled 
  • Normally get enough to last a month 
  • Don’t need to carry syringe needles and vials which could make it more convenient to take insulin
  • Fewer steps to inject insulin compared to a syringe 
  • Allows for more accurate dosing
  • More discreet than syringes and vials 

Cons: 

  • More expensive than a syringe 
  • Can’t mix insulin, but some pens come with premixed insulin  
  • Can be easily misplaced/lost
  • Still need to purchase insulin pen needles separately.
  • Not all insulins are available in pen form.

Smart Pens

How It Works: 

This method is similar to insulin pens. However specific instructions depend on the manufacturer/device. You may have to download the app associated with the smart pen to get the best function out of it.

Pros: 

  • Some devices are reusable and only needs a replaceable cartridge.
  • Some devices are available as caps that attach to regular insulin pens to aid in insulin dosage tracking
  • Bluetooth enabled where dosages can be automatically logged onto an app 
  • Accompanying app could have a carb calculator to tell users how much insulin needs to be taken per meal.  Removes the guesswork 
  • The app can also record how much insulin one is actually using. 
  • Can help you determine insulin-to-carb ratios and glucose corrections factors
  • Helps prevent insulin stacking 
  • Some insulin pens last up to a year on a single battery

Cons: 

  • Can be expensive, but depends on insurance coverage, if covered
  • Requires the motivation or ability to use or learn new technologies 
  • Not widely available for continuous glucose monitor (CGM) integration
  • Can be easily misplaced/lost
  • Still need to purchase insulin pen needles separately.
  • Not all types of insulin are compatible with smartpens.

Decide Which One Works for You 

In the end, you should decide which method works best for you. Those factors may depend on: 

  • Your budget 
  • Insurance coverage
  • Personal diabetes health goals 
  • Attitudes towards insulin injections 
  • Ability or interest in carb count 

However, before deciding and spending money on a specific method or type of smartpen, please speak with your healthcare provider to learn which one is most suitable for you and your diabetes management.  

This content was made possible by Lilly Diabetes, a Founding Partner of Beyond Type 2. 

WRITTEN BY T'ara Smith, MS, Nutrition Education, POSTED 07/09/21, UPDATED 06/21/22

T’ara was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in July 2017 at the age of 25. Since her diagnosis, she focused her academic studies and career on diabetes awareness and living a full life with it. She’s excited to have joined the Beyond Type 1 team to continue her work. Two years later, T'ara discovered she'd been misdiagnosed with type 2 and actually has latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA). Outside the office, T’ara enjoys going to the movies, visiting parks with her dog, listening to BTS and cooking awesome healthy meals. T’ara holds an MS in Nutrition Education from American University.