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Pen Needle: A Brief Discussion on the Types, Its Re-use and How to Make Their Use Painless

Steven Paul posted this on Jan 9, 2020

What are Pen Needles?

People with diabetes are most familiar with these devices. They are indeed a great relief for diabetic patients who require regular intake of insulin. Not all diabetic patients need insulin, but highly hyperglycemic patients do. The ones that undergo insulin therapy, are indeed blessed with the invention of pen needles! They are prefilled injectable insulin pens that are easy-to-use and can be handled by inexperienced individuals too.

A quick glance at why diabetics go for insulin

1. Insulin helps reduce blood glucose levels drastically. Diet and exercise are slower modes of controlling high levels of blood glucose. Unlike type 1 diabetes, where insulin is a must, type 2 patients are prescribed an insulin pen only when hyperglycemia cannot be arrested with simple exercise and lifestyle changes.

2. Insulin has fewer side effects than many other medications. Insulin is indeed a synthetic version of some of the body hormones. Therefore, they react in a much more natural way than medicines do and hence are preferred by both patients and medical practitioners.

3. Sometimes diabetic patients are prescribed a combination of medicines. It then proves to be much more expensive than a regular insulin intake! The latter is preferred in these cases.

All about Pen Needles

Pen needles, in the very first place, assure users with both comfort and safety. Since their launch in 1985, they have made self-injection more widespread with shorter and thinner needles. Speaking of variety, pen needle comes in two broad variants –

1. Disposable pen needle – the insulin cartridge comes prefilled. Once used up, the entire unit needs to be disposed of.

2. Reusable pen needle – the cartridge, after the first use, is replaceable and thus the pen can be reused again and again with a change of cartridges. However, re-using insulin pens requires the consideration of a few important factors (that have been discussed in this post below).

‘Needle size’ is an important factor behind choosing pen needles. The different needle sizes that are available for insulin pens are:

4mm Needles - The smallest and the thinnest variant is the 'nano' needle or the 4mm needle. It's thickness merely resembles that of two strands of hair. The patient doesn't even need to pinch the skin to inject insulin with the use of a nanoneedle!

6mm Needles- These are mini needles. They usually come with a gauge of 31 or 32, making it almost as thin as the 4mm needles. This is mostly recommended for children with diabetes; the short length of the needle reduces the risk of injection into the muscle. Muscle injections may lead to hypoglycemia because the rate of absorption increases and the duration of action is shortened too.

8mm, 10mm, and 12mm needlesThe 8mm needle is still shorter and one might need to pinch the skin to get it done accurately. The 10 and 12mm ones are commonly used and many are accustomed to this. However, the longer size may impact thinner patients having lesser subcutaneous fat that would be enough to get through.

Universally, two things are important while using a pen needle:

1. Holding the pen at a 90-degree angle and
2. Holding the needle at the site for at least 10 seconds.

Can pen needles be re-used?

Many diabetic patients tend to re-use pen needles. Before doing so, it is recommended that you make an informed decision. Re-suing pen needles might have some consequences. Let’s check out what are they.

Re-using needles could lead to bacterial growth

Staphylococcus epidermis is a bacterium that remains on the skin and is found in the needle after it has been used once. Although not grossly harmless, yet, re-use of needles may lead to unnecessary contamination and increase the chances of infection.

Re-using needles could be painful too

The fine tip of needles loses their fineness (if not significantly but minutely) after they are used. Hence the next time they could be slightly distorted and there are chances of experiencing pain while injecting or even taking the needle out!

Lipohypertrophy

Lipohypertrophy is the accumulation of fat under the skin, especially at the site of the subcutaneous injections. The lump is usually several inches across and mostly caused by faulty use of insulin pens or pen needles.

How will you reduce the pain?

First-time users of pen needles worry about whether its use would be painless. Insulin users need to adhere to a few things in order to make the act painless. The insulin should be brought to room temperature and for this, it must be kept at room temperature 15 minutes before injecting. If alcohol is being used to rub the site before injecting, it should be allowed to dry.

Finally, try to relax. You could take deep abdominal breaths for this. Pen needles are rather easy to use and comfortable too. If you are highly diabetic, you don't really need to think twice before switching over to insulin pens!

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