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Insulin Injections

If you've been prescribed insulin, your doctor or diabetes educator will show you how to give yourself insulin injections (shots). You should also carefully review all the information and instructions that come with your insulin and diabetes supplies before giving yourself an injection. Giving an injection can be simple, but it does take practice. Talk to your healthcare team or other people who take insulin for support during this time.

Learn more about insulin injections:

Choosing the Site for an Insulin Injection

Knowing exactly where on your body you should give your injection(s) each day is very important. The picture to the right shows recommended sites for your insulin injections in the dark blue grid areas. Each square is a place you can give yourself an injection. Be sure not to inject insulin into a muscle or vein. You may need help from a family member to give injections in some of the sites.

Rotating Sites

For your insulin to work best, don't use the exact same site each time you inject. There are different sites where you can inject throughout the day. Refer to the image above. This is called site rotation and involves following a regular pattern as you move from site to site. If you take more than one injection each day, inject the insulin in the same general area, and rotate to a different site for the next injection. Different people use different patterns, but the intent should always be to use all of the areas and the sites. When you do this, no one site will be used too often. Overusing a site can cause tissue changes that affect the amount of insulin absorbed or the rate at which it is absorbed.

Insulin enters the blood more quickly from some areas than others, so your blood sugar (glucose) may be higher or lower depending on what area is used. At times, you may want to use a certain area because of how quickly or slowly insulin is taken up from that site. For example, if you plan to eat very soon after an injection, you could use a site on your stomach.

Most insulin enters the blood:

  • Fastest from the abdomen (stomach)
  • A little slower from the arms
  • Even more slowly from the legs
  • Most slowly from the buttocks

Insulin Delivery Options

There are several choices available to give insulin injections, including syringes, insulin pens, and external insulin pumps. Syringes are probably the most common method and come in a range of sizes of needle thickness (gauge), needle length, and syringe capacity. Pens may be either prefilled or reusable. Some patients find insulin pens easier to use and handy if you want the convenience of carrying insulin with you in a discreet way.

Insulin pumps are small devices the size of a pager that deliver insulin through a catheter inserted under the skin of your abdomen. They can be set to deliver insulin at a slow, continuous rate throughout the day, or to release larger quantities at meal times or when blood sugar levels are high. The main advantage of a pump is that it can more closely mimic the insulin production of the pancreas. However, you still need to monitor your blood sugar levels regularly.

Which Delivery Device Is Right for Me?

A number of factors should be considered when selecting a method of insulin delivery, including your lifestyle, vision and motor skills, ability to manage the device and give the injection correctly, and, of course, your personal preference. While some may prefer to use the traditional syringe, today's insulin delivery devices, such as insulin pens, can offer greater discretion and may be easier to use.

Your healthcare team can help you decide which device will best suit your needs and can also help make sure you know how to use the device.

A Note About Used Needles

Most states require that you store used needles and pen needles in a hard container. Specific requirements vary per local regulations, and an empty liquid detergent bottle or a coffee can may be acceptable. Some locations may require sharps containers. Sharps containers can be purchased at most pharmacies. Check with your local health department to confirm the rules where you live.

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