Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas which regulates the amount of glucose in the blood. When the natural production of insulin is disrupted, or the insulin produced isn't effective enough, the level of sugar in one person's blood is too high. This person has diabetes.
Science has managed to create animal-derived and synthetic insulins to mimic the action of natural insulin in the treatment of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. There are different types of pharmaceutical insulins, and they may come in different containers such as vials, self-injectable pens, or cartridges.
Let's focus here on insulin vials and find out more about them. How much insulin is inside? How to store your vials? How many do you need per month? How much do they cost?
How long does a vial of insulin last?
How long a vial of insulin lasts depends on its storage conditions. Whether in vials, pens, or cartridges, insulin actually has two expiration dates.
Until its expiration date if unopened
Each small glass bottle of insulin has its own expiration date. Most of the time, you will find it on the carton box or printed on the vial itself.
The insulin contained in the vial is good until that specific expiration date. During that time, it must be kept in the fridge. Remember that insulin is a temperature-sensitive medicine that needs to stay refrigerated.
If your vials of insulin are properly stored in your fridge, they’re safe to use until they expire.
Related article: How to keep insulin refrigerated during a power outage?
For about a month once opened
Once opened, insulin vials only last for about a month independently of their labeled expiration date. That’s because insulin is only stable at room temperature for an average of 30 days (28 days for Lantus, up to 42 days for some insulin, and even 56 days for others like Tresiba).
After that time, the medicine starts deteriorating and losing efficiency, so it may not work properly anymore. Besides, the risks of your insulin going bad increase considerably.
Here’s more precise information about the exact number of days your insulin vials last once opened or out of the fridge depending on the brand of insulin you’re using:
Related article: How to know if your insulin has gone bad?
How to store your vials of insulin?
As said above, insulin requires refrigeration and is only good for about a month once opened or exposed to room temperature.
Before opening, your small glass bottles of insulin must be stored in your fridge between 36°F and 46°F (2°C - 8°C) until their expiration date.
Once opened and/or out of the fridge, your insulin vials must be stored at room temperature at a maximum of 80°F (26°C) and will be safe for use for about a month.
While these strict insulin storage instructions are easy to follow at home, traveling with insulin that needs refrigeration or protection from the heat can be challenging.
Related article: Everything you need to know about traveling with insulin
Keep your insulin vials refrigerated while traveling with 4AllFamily's medical travel coolers!
How to dispose of insulin vials?
Empty, old, or expired vials of insulin must be disposed of immediately so there's no possible confusion with the good ones. The disposal of insulin vials, pens, and cartridges may vary according to local laws.
Sometimes, it’s fine to throw your vials in the household trash. They do not recycle. In that case, make sure to empty them first.
You may also be required to dispose of your insulin vials through a drug collection program or to place them in certain containers. Ask your pharmacist.
Used needles and syringes must be disposed of in sharps containers!
How many vials of insulin do you need per month?
How many vials of insulin you need per month really depends on the treatment plan decided with your doctor. Diabetes is a disease that affects each person differently. Insulin dosage is highly variable from one person to the other.
While some diabetics are fine with 10 units of long-acting basal insulin, others need 50 units plus 60 units or more of fast-acting bolus insulin per meal! However, to give you an idea, most diabetic patients use two to three vials of insulin per month.
How to calculate the number of vials of insulin per month?
Once your dosage has been evaluated by your medical team and is stable, the number of vials you need per month also depends on the size of your vials.
To know how many vials of insulin you need per month, you must calculate:
- How many units of insulin you’re using per month
- How many units of insulin are in your vials
For example, if you’re using 50 units of insulin per day, multiply that number by 30 and you get your monthly units of insulin (30*50 = 1500 units of insulin per month). Then, find out how many units of insulin are in your vial (for example 1000 units) and divide your monthly units by that number (1500/1000 = 1,5 vials of insulin per month).
Related article: Can you prefill insulin syringes? How to store them?
How many units of insulin are in a vial?
A typical vial of insulin is 10 ml and contains 1000 units of insulin. However, there are some exceptions.
Some vials may have a smaller or bigger size. You can find 3 ml vials of U-100 insulins (300 units) like Humalog, Humulin N, or Humulin R. Lantus also exists in small 5 ml vials (500 units). In rare cases, insulin can be sold in 15ml or bigger vials.
To know the number of units in each vial, first make sure the insulin is U-100. Then, simply multiply the number of milliliters by 100. Example: in a 5 ml vial of U-100 Lantus insulin, there are 5*100 = 500 units of insulin.
Some insulins may have different concentrations. Nowadays, most insulins come in U-100 concentration. It means that there are 100 units of insulin per milliliter. So, a 10 ml vial of U-100 insulin does contain 1000 units, and a 15 ml vial would contain 1500 units.
Certain specific insulins, insulins sold in other countries, or insulin for dogs and pets, may have different concentrations like U-40 (40 units per ml) or U-200 (200 units per ml). To calculate the number of insulin units in a vial, simply multiply the number of units per ml by the number of milliliters. For example, in a 10 ml vial of U-40 insulin, there are 10*40 = 400 units of insulin.
In the United States, the only insulins you will find with U-40 concentration are insulins for pets. The only insulin sold for humans that’s not a U-100 is Humalog U-200 (insulin lispro 200U/ml), but it’s only sold with the KwikPen (not in vials) so there are no possible confusions.
Related article: What to do if you run out of insulin?
How much does a vial of insulin cost?
In the United States, the price of a vial of insulin is around $200 without health insurance According to a 2018 report, you can find over-the-counter insulins sold at Walmart for as little as $25 per vial, while the newest insulins cost between $175 and $300 per vial.
Using human insulin sold at Walmart may have serious consequences on your blood sugar levels and diabetes management. These insulins do not work the same way as analog insulins do. They may have different times of action, peak times, as well as reduced effectiveness. Always ask for your doctor’s advice before using a different brand of insulin than the one you’ve been prescribed.
Related article: What happens if you miss a dose of insulin?
Insulin is a very expensive medicine. Keep your vials safe, and protect them from shattering and bacterial contamination. Use a silicon insulin vial protector like the ones from 4AllFamily. These little things can make you save hundreds of dollars worth of medicine!