Treating Diabetes with Insulin: How to Give Yourself an Injection

Insulin pens make things easy. Here’s how to use ‘em.

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Insulin helps the body control high blood sugar. It is a hormone produced naturally by the body, but it can also be used as a medication to treat both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. (Find out the difference between these two diabetes types here.)

Insulin is often in the form of an injectable—which can be unnerving for some. “When people tell me that they’re scared of needles, I understand it can be very intimidating,” says Ana Kausel, MD, endocrinologist in New York City. Many patients don’t realize how tiny the needles used for insulin injections are, and they’re often less nervous once they see the actual needle.

Your insulin injection may come in a few different forms. Traditionally, it came in a vial, and you would need to use a needle and syringe. Today, you have other options: “The most common presentation of insulin nowadays is insulin pens,” says Dr. Kausel.

How to Give an Insulin Injection

Preparing Your Insulin Pen

Use one pen at a time. Your doctor will give you a certain number of insulin pens, and it’s important to only open one pen at a time. “Leave the rest of the pens in the refrigerator,” says Dr. Kausel. “Once you open one box, you can leave that pen at room temperature until you use it all.” Avoid exposing your pen to extreme temperatures.

Use a new needle every time. Your insulin pen will come with small needles that are for individual use—meaning you’ll need to use a new needle each time.

Prep the pen. After you screw the needle in, you’ll dial two units. This helps squeeze extra air out of the pen. Push the button at the top of the pen until the dial reads zero and a drop of insulin comes out. This means the pen is ready for injection.

Set the pen to your prescribed dosage. Now, you’ll dial the pen to the dosage prescribed by your doctor. It’s crucial to take the appropriate amount of insulin, since this can help prevent high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) or low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Here are tips for monitoring blood sugar levels.

Giving the Injection

Pick the area on your body where you wish to inject. “Make sure this area is clean,” says Dr. Kausel. “Common areas of injection are the abdomen, the back of the abdomen, and the outer thigh.”

Squeeze the skin and inject the medicine. When you’re ready to inject, press the needle into the area, holding the area around the injection site firmly with your other hand (this can help alleviate the sensation of the needle). Hold down the button on top of the insulin pen to release the insulin. When the dial reaches zero, continue holding the button and count to five. The injection is complete: Take the pen out, and then release the button.

Safely dispose of the needle. Unscrew the needle from your insulin pen, and dispose of it safely in a designated container. While in storage, be sure to keep the cap on the insulin pen.

If you are having difficulties using your insulin pen or other injection devices, you should talk to your doctor. When used correctly, this device can be life-saving.