Background: Neutral protamine Hagedorn (NPH) insulin is one of the most commonly used insulins in insulin pens. NPH in pen cartridges is in a two-phase solution with either a solvent or a short-acting insulin, and needs adequate mixing for complete resuspension. We assessed whether NPH insulin is accurately resuspended by patients and the association of suspension errors with diabetes control.
Methods: 109 patients (39 with type 1 diabetes) who had received conventional diabetic education had the NPH content of their cartridges measured by an optical system; a control cartridge was designated as 100%. A questionnaire was used to assess clinical details and insulin suspension habits. After the information about residual insulin error was known, all 109 patients were instructed to resuspend their insulin by rolling and tipping the pen 20 times. 52 patients were randomly selected to have cartridges re-analysed 3 months or 6 months later and to complete another questionnaire.
Findings: Only 10 (9%) of 109 patients tipped and rolled their pen more than ten times. NPH insulin content ranged from 5% to 214% and varied by more than 20% in 71 (65%) of 109 cartridges. There was no relation between inadequate suspension and the frequency of hypoglycaemic episodes (r=0.2, p=0.08). For all patients, there was a correlation between the absolute error of NPH suspension and cycles of rolling and tipping the pen (r=-0.23, p<0.05). After education on resuspending the pen's contents, data were available from 44 of 52 patients; suspension errors decreased in 35 (80%), were unchanged in three (7%), and increased in six (13%). The 35 patients with improved NPH insulin suspension had fewer mean hypoglycaemic episodes per month compared with the previous period (0.4 [SD 0.1] vs 1.0 [0.3], p<0.05). Mean HbA1c values in patients with improved suspension quality did not differ from baseline (8.4% [0.3] vs 8.9% [0.4], p=0.07). Mixing of NPH insulin by a mechanical device showed that at least 20 cycles were necessary before complete resuspension was obtained.
Interpretation: Inadequate NPH insulin suspension is common. We recommended that patients tip pens that contain NPH insulin at least 20 times, since inadequate mixing may impair diabetes control.