Diabetes: Giving Yourself an Insulin Shot

Introduction

If you have type 1 diabetes—or if you have type 2 diabetes and other diabetes medicines are not controlling your blood sugar—you have to take insulin. If you have gestational diabetes, you may need to take insulin if diet and exercise have not been able to keep your blood sugar levels within your target range.

With little or no insulin, sugar (glucose) in the blood cannot enter your cells to be used for energy. As a result, the sugar in your blood rises above a safe level. When your blood sugar rises past about 180 mg/dL, your kidneys begin to release sugar into the urine, which can make you dehydrated. If you are dehydrated, your kidneys make less urine, which means your body can't get rid of extra sugar. This is when blood sugar levels rise.

Taking insulin can prevent the symptoms of high blood sugar and emergencies such as diabetic ketoacidosis (in type 1 diabetes) and hyperosmolar coma (in type 2 diabetes). Insulin also can help lower blood sugar, which can prevent serious and permanent complications from long-term high blood sugar.

The three most important elements of success in giving insulin injections are:

  • Making sure you have the right dose of insulin, especially if you are giving two types of insulin in the same syringe.
  • Practicing how to give your injection.
  • Storing the insulin properly so that each dose will work effectively.
 

Insulin for injection comes in:

  • A vial: Use an insulin syringe to inject the insulin.
  • A cartridge: Use a pen-shaped device called an insulin pen. The cartridge fits inside the pen and the dose of insulin is set with a dial on the outside of the pen. The pen (with the cartridge inside) is used to give the medicine. Insulin pens are either disposable or reusable. Disposable pens include a prefilled cartridge. Reusable pens can be refilled with new cartridges of insulin again and again.

To give an insulin injection, you insert the needle (attached to the syringe) into your skin. Push the plunger to inject the medicine into the fatty tissue just below the skin. Insulin usually is injected into the abdomen, upper arm, buttocks, or thigh.

Your doctor may have you take two types of insulin at the same time. Because most types of insulin prescribed to be taken at the same time can be mixed together, you most likely will be able to give both doses in the same syringe. But you cannot mix the long-acting insulin glargine (Lantus) or insulin detemir (Levemir) in the same syringe with other types of insulin.

Some insulin pens work with premixed insulin cartridges, such as Humalog Mix 50/50, Humulin 70/30, and NovoLog Mix 70/30.

Test Your Knowledge

To withdraw a single dose of insulin from a bottle, I need to use a syringe.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    To withdraw a single dose of insulin from a bottle, you do need to use a syringe.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    To withdraw a single dose of insulin from a bottle, you do need to use a syringe.

  •  

To give an injection of insulin, the needle of the syringe is inserted into the skin and the medicine is pushed into the fatty tissue just under the skin.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    To give an injection of insulin, the needle of the syringe is inserted into the skin and the medicine is pushed into the fatty tissue just under the skin.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    To give an injection of insulin, the needle of the syringe is inserted into the skin and the medicine is pushed into the fatty tissue just under the skin.

  •  

Continue to Why?

 

Normally, insulin is produced by the pancreas. Insulin lets sugar (glucose) in the blood enter body cells, where it is used for energy. It helps the body store extra sugar in muscles, fat, and liver cells. Later, that sugar can be released if it is needed. Without insulin, the body cells cannot use sugar, causing the blood sugar level to rise above what is safe for your body.

You need to take insulin because you have:

  • Type 1 diabetes, which causes your body to produce little or no insulin.
  • Type 2 diabetes, which causes your body to require more insulin than it can produce. When your body starts producing too little or no insulin, you will have to take insulin. You may also need to take insulin if your body is under unusual stress, such as if you are having major surgery or you are severely ill, or if you become pregnant.
  • Gestational diabetes. Your body is not able to use insulin properly. You will need to take insulin during your pregnancy if getting regular exercise and eating a balanced diet does not keep your blood sugar levels within your target range.

Test Your Knowledge

A person whose pancreas produces little or no insulin has to take insulin.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    A person whose pancreas does not produce any or enough insulin has to take insulin. This includes people with type 1 diabetes, some people with type 2 diabetes, and some women with gestational diabetes.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    A person whose pancreas does not produce any or enough insulin has to take insulin. This includes people with type 1 diabetes, some people with type 2 diabetes, and some women with gestational diabetes.

  •  

People with type 2 diabetes who are under unusual stress, such as having major surgery, may need to take insulin for a short period of time.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    People with type 2 diabetes who are under unusual stress, such as having major surgery, may need to take insulin for a short period of time.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    People with type 2 diabetes who are under unusual stress, such as having major surgery, may need to take insulin for a short period of time.

  •  

Continue to How?

 

Your health professional or certified diabetes educator (CDE) will help you learn to prepare and give your insulin dose. Here are some simple steps to help you learn this task.

Get ready

To get ready to give an insulin injection, follow these steps.

  1. Wash your hands with soap and running water. Dry them thoroughly.
  2. Gather your supplies. Most people keep their supplies in a bag or kit so they can carry the supplies wherever they go.
    • You will need an insulin syringe, your bottle (or bottles) of insulin, and an alcohol wipe or a cotton ball dipped in alcohol.
    • If you are using an insulin pen, you will need a needle that works with your pen. If the pen is reusable, you may need an insulin cartridge. You may also need an alcohol swab.
  3. Check the insulin bottle or cartridge.
    • When you use an insulin bottle for the first time, write the date on the bottle. On the 30th day after opening, throw away the bottle with any remaining insulin. Insulin may not work as well after 30 days of use.
    • On a reusable insulin pen, note the date you started using the pen. Reusable pens expire (for example, after several years).
    • Check that a disposable pen's insulin has not expired. This date is usually printed on the pen's label.

Prepare the injection

Your preparation will depend on whether you are giving one type of insulin or mixing two types of insulin.

When you are mixing types of insulin to be given in one syringe, follow these precautions.

  • If you are mixing NPH and short-acting regular insulin, you can use it right away or put it aside to be used later. Keep it away from heat and light, such as in a refrigerator.
  • Insulin glargine (Lantus) and insulin detemir (Levemir) cannot be mixed with other types of insulin. They also cannot be given in a syringe that has been used to give another type of insulin.

If you are using an insulin pen, follow the manufacturer's instructions for attaching the needle, priming the pen, and setting the dose.

If you have poor eyesight, have problems using your hands, or cannot prepare a dose of insulin, you may need someone to prepare your insulin injections ahead of time.

Prepare the site

Before giving your injection:

Give the injection

Follow the steps for giving an insulin injection in the belly. It's also possible to give a shot in the arm.

Follow the steps for giving an insulin injection into the belly with a reusable insulin pen.

Cleanup and storage

After giving your injection, be sure to:

  • Store your insulin properly so that each dose will work effectively.
  • Dispose of your used syringe, disposable insulin pen, or needle. Do not throw your used syringe, needle, or insulin pen into a household wastebasket or trash can. You can dispose of them in a metal container, such as a coffee can, that has a lid that screws on or that you tape down tightly. You also can buy special containers for disposing of used needles and syringes. You can also buy a small needle clipper device that breaks the needle off the syringe and stores it safely for disposal. Talk with your local trash disposal agency, pharmacy, or your health professional about how to get rid of the container.

Other tips for success and safety

  • You can practice injecting air or water into an orange until you feel comfortable with the steps for giving insulin. Then do the steps in front of your doctor or certified diabetes educator and ask him or her how you did.
  • Teach other family members how to give insulin injections. Have at least one other person who can prepare and give your insulin injection in an emergency. It's a good idea to let this person give your scheduled insulin injection for practice. Then it will not be as unfamiliar when an emergency occurs.
  • Never share syringes with another person because of the risk of getting diseases that can be transferred through blood, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or infection of the liver (hepatitis).

Test Your Knowledge

The first step in preparing insulin from a bottle is to roll the bottle gently between your hands.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    The first step in preparing insulin from a bottle is to roll the bottle gently between your hands. This will warm the insulin if you have been keeping the bottle in the refrigerator. Roll a bottle of cloudy insulin until the white powder has dissolved.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    The first step in preparing insulin from a bottle is to roll the bottle gently between your hands. This will warm the insulin if you have been keeping the bottle in the refrigerator. Roll a bottle of cloudy insulin until the white powder has dissolved.

  •  

When you are preparing a cloudy and a clear insulin to give a mixed dose, which do you put into the syringe first?

  • Cloudy insulin
    This answer is incorrect.

    When you are preparing a cloudy and a clear insulin to give a mixed dose, you put the clear insulin into the syringe first.

  • Clear insulin
    This answer is correct.

    When you are preparing a cloudy and a clear insulin to give a mixed dose, you put the clear insulin into the syringe first.

  •  

Continue to Where?

 

Now that you have read this information, you are ready to start preparing and giving insulin injections.

If you would like more information on preparing and giving insulin injections, the following resources are available:

Organization

American Diabetes Association (ADA)
1701 North Beauregard Street
Alexandria, VA  22311
Phone: 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383)
Email: AskADA@diabetes.org
Web Address: www.diabetes.org
 

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) is a national organization for health professionals and consumers. Almost every state has a local office. ADA sets the standards for the care of people with diabetes. Its focus is on research for the prevention and treatment of all types of diabetes. ADA provides patient and professional education mainly through its publications, which include the monthly magazine Diabetes Forecast, books, brochures, cookbooks and meal planning guides, and pamphlets. ADA also provides information for parents about caring for a child with diabetes.


Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last Revised August 13, 2013

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