4 Ways To Take Insulin

man on couch using insulin pen

How and when you take insulin is unique to you and can change over time.

How and when to take insulin is different for each person and can change over time.

You may take just one type of insulin or different types throughout the day depending on your lifestyle, what you eat, and your blood sugar levels.

Ask your doctor to refer you to diabetes self-management education and support (DSMES) services when you start using insulin.

Your diabetes educator will make sure you feel comfortable managing your insulin routine, including how and where to inject and how to program an insulin pump if you’re using one.

Terms To Know

Bolus Insulin

Short- or rapid-acting insulin taken at or before mealtimes to control blood sugar levels.

Basal Insulin (background insulin)

Intermediate- or long-acting insulin taken to keep blood sugar levels steady between meals and overnight.

Basal-Bolus Regimen

Rapid-acting insulin taken at mealtimes and long-acting insulin taken once or twice a day.

Syringe or Pen

Syringes and insulin pens deliver insulin through a needle. Pens may be more convenient, and children may find them more comfortable than syringes.


Your doctor will tell you how much insulin you need per dose. Smaller-capacity syringes are easier to use and more accurate.

  • If your largest dose is close to the syringe’s maximum capacity, buy the next size up in case your dosage changes.
  • If you need doses in half units, choose a syringe with half-unit markings.

Insulin pen

Some pens use cartridges that are inserted into the pen. Others are pre-filled and discarded after all the insulin is used. The insulin dose is dialed on the pen, and the insulin is injected through a needle.

If you inject insulin near the same place each time, hard lumps or fatty deposits can develop. Both problems can be unsightly and make insulin less reliable.

Advantages of syringes and pens

  • Injections require less training than a pump.
  • Injections may cost less than a pump.
  • Pens are more portable and easier to use than syringes.
  • Needles in pens are small, thin, and more comfortable.

Disadvantages of syringes and pens

  • Syringes are less discreet than pens.
  • Not all types of insulin can be used with a pen.
  • Pens are more expensive than syringes and may not be covered by insurance.

Insulin Pump

An insulin pump is about the size of a small cell phone. It gives you a basal dose of short- or rapid-acting insulin per hour. When you eat or when blood sugar is high, you calculate the dose, and the insulin in the pump delivers the bolus.

The pump delivers insulin through a thin plastic tube placed semi-permanently into the fatty layer under your skin, usually in the stomach area or back of the upper arm. Your doctor or health education specialist will show you how and where to place the tube.

Advantages of insulin pumps

  • Have been shown to improve A1C.
  • Deliver insulin more accurately.
  • Deliver bolus insulin easier.
  • Eliminate unpredictable effects of intermediate- or long-acting insulin.
  • Provide greater flexibility with meals, exercise, and daily schedule.
  • Can improve physical and psychological well-being.

Disadvantages of insulin pumps

  • May cause weight gain.
  • Can be expensive.
  • May cause infection.
  • May cause diabetic ketoacidosis (very high blood sugar) if the system is stopped or stops working correctly.
  • Can be a constant reminder of having diabetes.
  • Training is necessary.

Insulin Inhaler

Inhaled insulin is taken using an oral inhaler to deliver ultra-rapid-acting insulin at the beginning of meals. Inhaled insulin is used with an injectable long-acting insulin.

Advantages of insulin inhalers

  • Is not an injection.
  • Acts very fast and is as effective as injectable rapid-acting insulins.
  • Can be taken at the beginning of meals.
  • Could lower risk of low blood sugar.
  • Could cause less weight gain.
  • Inhaler device is small.

Disadvantages of insulin inhalers

  • Might cause mild or severe coughing.
  • May be more expensive.
  • Still requires injections or a pump for basal insulin.
  • Dosing isn’t as precise.

Make sure to talk to your doctor and diabetes educator when your lifestyle or needs change. They will know about the latest devices and have tips to make taking insulin and all aspects of diabetes easier to manage. Need help finding a diabetes educator? Find a diabetes education programexternal icon in your area.

Page last reviewed: July 30, 2021