Easy-to-read information about insulin pens, syringes and needles – the different types and how to use them.
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In New Zealand insulin is available as 10 mL vials and 3 mL cartridges.
- Insulin from the 10 mL vial is injected using a syringe with a needle.
- Insulin from the 3mL cartridge is given using an insulin pen. There are 2 types of insulin pens:
- Reusable pen which allows you to replace the insulin cartridge when it's empty or expired. The cartridge can be removed from the pen, thrown away and a new cartridge is fitted into the same pen.
- Disposable pen in which a cartridge is pre-fitted into the pen and cannot be removed. When the insulin runs out, the entire pen is thrown away and a new pen is required.
Syringes and needles
- There are 3 different-sized syringes available in New Zealand: 0.3mL, 0.5 mL and 1 mL.
- The strength of all insulin in New Zealand is 100 units/mL, so a 0.3 mL syringe has doses of up to 30 units. A bigger syringe is used for larger doses.
- People who mix insulins in the syringe may prefer a larger syringe (0.5 mL or 1 mL) to allow for ease of mixing.
- Syringes have a variety of different-sized needles attached to them. Needle sizes are measured by their thinness (gauge) and their length (in mm), eg, 31 gauge x 8 mm.
- The higher the gauge, the thinner the needle, eg, a 31 gauge needle is thinner than a 28 gauge needle.
- People who use syringes more than once may prefer a stronger (lower gauge number) needle.
- If the syringe is being used for a young child the finer, shorter (31 gauge x 8 mm) needle may be preferred.
Syringe sizes available in New Zealand¹
- 0.3 mL with 29 gauge x 12.7 mm needle
- 0.3 mL with 31 gauge x 8 mm needle
- 0.5 mL with 29 gauge x 12.7 mm needle
- 0.5 mL with 31 gauge x 8 mm needle
- 1 mL with 29 gauge x 12.7 mm needle
- 1 mL with 31 gauge x 8 mm needle.
If you are unsure of which syringe and needle size is best for you, talk to your diabetes nurse, pharmacist or doctor.
In New Zealand, you can have 100 subsidised syringes on a prescription if insulin is also on the prescription or if the prescription is endorsed as being for a patient using insulin. Your doctor can write more than one prescription. Read more about syringes from Diabetes NZ.
Insulin pens are similar in size and shape to a writing pen. Pens make measuring and injecting your insulin easier and are easy to carry around. Insulin pens are not pre-fitted with needles. A suitably sized needle has to be attached to the pen. There are 2 types of pen devices available in New Zealand: reusable and disposable.
Reusable pens allow you to replace the insulin cartridge. When the cartridge runs out or expires, it is removed from the pen, thrown away and a new cartridge is fitted into the same pen.
In New Zealand, insulin is supplied by Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly and Sanofi-Aventis. It is important to use the correct insulin brand in the correct pen, eg, Lilly pen will use Lilly insulin cartridges, a Novo-Nordisk pen will use Novo-Nordisk insulin cartridges, etc.
Reusable pens are available at no cost from diabetes clinics and pharmacies.
These pens have an insulin cartridge pre-fitted into the pen that cannot be removed. When the insulin runs out, the pen is thrown away and a new pen is required.
Insulin pen needles
Insulin pens are not pre-fitted with needles. A suitably sized needle has to be attached to the pen. Needle sizes are measured by their thinness (gauge) and their length (in mm), eg, 31 gauge x 8 mm. The higher the gauge, the thinner the needle, eg, a 31 gauge needle is thinner than a 28 gauge needle.
Insulin pen needle sizes available in New Zealand²
- 29 gauge x 12.7 mm
- 31 gauge x 5 mm
- 31 gauge x 6 mm
- 31 gauge x 8 mm
- 32 gauge x 4 mm.
4mm and 5mm are the recommended pen needle sizes to use.
Which device: syringe or pen?
The decision to use syringes or pens is a personal one. Here are some points to think about:
- Insulin pens are easy to carry around, and make measuring and injecting your insulin easier. Injections can be administered discretely. Most pens hold 300 units of insulin and allow delivery of up to 60–80 units at a time. Most insulins are available as pens.
- Syringes hold up to 100 units. They may be best if you use mixed insulins or if you're giving insulin to a child.
Talk to your diabetes nurse, pharmacist or doctor for more advice. Read more about insulin injection technique.
Short and rapid-acting insulins can also be given by a portable insulin pump. This delivers continuous insulin and can be activated to give extra insulin at meal times. These pumps can be useful for people who have hypoglycaemia often or if their levels are difficult to control. There are certain criteria for funding and many options available.
In New Zealand, insulin pumps are generally only recommended for people with Type 1 diabetes. For more information, see:
Insulin pumps with diabetes Starship NZ
Sub-cutaneous insulin infusions (insulin pumps) Ministry of Health, NZ.