Diabetes: Giving Yourself an Insulin Shot
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.
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.
To get ready to give an insulin injection, follow these steps.
- Wash your hands with soap and running water. Dry them thoroughly.
- 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.
- 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.
- To prepare an injection with a single type of insulin, follow the steps for preparing a single dose of insulin.
- To prepare an injection containing two types of insulin, follow the steps for preparing a mixed dose 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:
- Choose the part of your body to inject. If you give your injections in different places on your body each day (rotate sites), use the same site at the same time of the day. For example, each day:
- If you use alcohol to clean the skin before you give the injection, let it dry.
Give the injection
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).
Other Works Consulted
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2007). Guideline for isolation precautions: Preventing transmission of infectious agents in healthcare settings 2007. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/hicpac/2007IP/2007isolationPrecautions.html.
Last Revised: August 13, 2013
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