Choosing the Right Insulin Delivery Methods: UK Options and Considerations (2023)
Time to read 9 min
Time to read 9 min
Effective insulin delivery is crucial for managing diabetes.
With various options available in the UK, choosing the right insulin delivery method for your needs is important. Your doctor usually decides which methods are best for you and gives you several options.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the different insulin delivery devices so you can make an informed decision.
As one of the most vital hormones for human survival, pharmaceutical companies are constantly developing new ways to deliver and administer insulin. Your healthcare provider chooses the best insulin delivery systems based on your diabetes management plan.
Here are some of the insulin delivery devices they might recommend.
Traditional insulin syringes are the most common insulin delivery method worldwide. It involves a small glass vial of insulin and a syringe with a plunger and a needle.
Insulin syringes deliver insulin into the subcutaneous layer of the skin, and you need to rotate the injection site every time to avoid irritation or injection site reactions.
These syringes come in various sizes and gauges depending on your insulin dose and the type of insulin you take. Your healthcare provider can help you determine the best syringe gauge and needle length.
An insulin pump is a small programmable medical device that delivers insulin doses directly into your body using a catheter inserted under the skin.
Insulin pumps help you manage your blood sugar levels more effectively and conveniently than traditional insulin injections.
These pumps can be programmed to administer insulin at mealtimes called bolus insulin to keep your blood glucose levels from spiking after meals. It's equivalent to the shot of short-acting insulin you'd normally take a few minutes before eating.
Unlike traditional syringes, you'll still need to tell your insulin pump to give you a bolus dose, but you won't need to prepare it.
Pumps can also be programmed to deliver a continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion called basal insulin. This long-acting insulin dose keeps your blood sugar steady throughout the day and when you sleep at night.
With these two methods of insulin administration, insulin pumps mimic the body's natural insulin patterns. It saves you the trouble of taking multiple daily injections. However, you still need to program the insulin pump and tell it how much insulin to administer each time.
There are generally two types of insulin pumps: external and implantable.
External insulin pumps, the most common type, are usually made up of three parts:
External insulin pumps can be attached to your belt, kept in your pocket, or strapped to your arm or stomach beneath your clothes.
Some external insulin pumps, called patch pumps, lack the tubing but instead use a patch-like device that sticks directly to the skin.
Implantable insulin pumps, on the other hand, are well hidden because they are surgically implanted beneath the skin. However, this type of insulin pump is still under development, and very few people have tried it.
An artificial pancreas, also called a closed-loop system, is an insulin delivery device composed of three parts:
A CGM is a small sensor that goes under the skin and measures your blood glucose levels throughout the day. Continuous glucose monitors then relay these readings to your smartphone or any device you prefer via a wireless Bluetooth transmitter.
Unlike a traditional glucometer, CGMs give you real-time glucose data that can drive your food choices and insulin doses.
A continuous glucose monitor connected to an insulin pump reads your blood sugar levels and tells the pump to release insulin accordingly. Together, they act as an artificial pancreas that reads fluctuations in your blood sugar and releases the right amount of insulin.
The control algorithm helps the insulin pump determine the correct amount without input.
This closed-loop system is usually recommended for people with type 1 diabetes and those with difficulty controlling their blood sugar.
Expensive: Artificial pancreas is even more costly than typical insulin pumps.
Complexity: It requires extensive training and education to use and adjust it properly.
Limited Availability: While closed-loop systems are becoming increasingly popular, they are still not widely available in some countries.
Insulin pens are a great alternative to traditional syringes. They provide accurate, standardized doses since you don’t need to draw up insulin from a vial.
Insulin pens are also easier to carry, less likely to break than an insulin vial, and much more discreet than syringes.
There are generally two types of insulin pens:
Insulin pens have fine pen needles that need to be switched with every use, but they are much smaller and more convenient than traditional hypodermic needles.
Your healthcare provider can help you decide between different pen needle gauges.
Insulin injection aids are special devices that make insulin syringes easier to use. They’re especially useful for older people with difficulty seeing, handling, or using a traditional syringe and needle.
Examples of insulin injection aids include the following:
Insulin jet injectors, also called needle-free injection devices, deliver insulin directly into the skin without using a hypodermic needle, hence the name.
These Insujet devices consist of a small, handheld injector that contains an insulin reservoir, a spring-loaded mechanism, and a disposable needle or nozzle.
When you press the button, the spring-loaded mechanism activates, pushing the insulin out of the needle or nozzle and into your skin.
Needle-free injectors rely on high pressure to guide the insulin into your subcutaneous layer through the pores of your skin. All of this happens in seconds.
Despite the high pressure that turns the insulin dose into a fine jet stream, jet injectors are virtually painless. For example, InsuJet produces a fine steam with a 150 μm diameter. That’s thinner than 2 sheets of regular paper and several times smaller than a needle.
Insulin inhalers use compressed air to deliver your insulin dose to the bloodstream through the lungs. The inhaled insulin can be either dissolved rapid-acting insulin or dry, micronized insulin powder.
Inhaled insulin is still being researched, and only rapid-acting insulin is currently available in inhaled form. This means diabetics still need to take long-acting insulin injections using an insulin inhaler.
This insulin delivery method isn’t very popular among diabetics and people with comorbidities such as asthma or lung diseases.
Being a protein-based hormone, insulin can’t normally be taken orally because, like all proteins, stomach acids would just digest it.
However, several attempts have recently been to create an acid-resistant oral insulin such as pills or tablets. While the research shows this is possible, it would be extremely complicated and expensive.
Even if the insulin were to overcome the stomach acids, it would still have a hard time passing through the stomach wall for absorption because of the wall thickness.
Many companies have developed oral insulin pills and are currently testing them on animals to find a way to bypass the stomach absorption problem.
In the meantime, scientists are working on a buccal form of insulin that can be absorbed through the inner walls of the cheeks.
New insulin delivery devices are being created almost every year to help you take your insulin easily and comfortably.
However, no matter which device you choose, following your dosing schedule to keep your blood sugar in check is important.
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