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How to Inject Insulin

Take the worry and fear out of giving yourself insulin injections with this how-to guide. We give you super-simple steps so you'll know how to inject insulin simply, safely, and easily every time.

How to Inject Insulin

Insulin is measured in "units." A new bottle of U-100 insulin, the most commonly used strength of insulin in the United States, holds 1,000 units. New insulin cartridges or prefilled pens have 300 units each, so boxes of five cartridges or prefilled pens have a total of 1,500 units. Unopened insulin should be refrigerated. Once opened, insulin may be kept at room temperature for 30 days. After 30 days it should be thrown away.

Many types of insulin are available. Your doctor will decide the best type, amount, and administration time(s) for you. If you are going to use a syringe and vial, follow the directions below. Although injecting insulin might feel awkward at first, with a little practice you'll find it takes only a few seconds.

Roll Insulin

Step 1: If using an intermediate- or long-acting insulin that looks cloudy or milky-white, gently roll bottle between your palms for 15 seconds to mix. Only the cloudy-looking insulin needs to be rolled.

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Measure Air

Step 2: Measure air into your syringe (the same amount as insulin needed) by pulling the plunger back. You'll use this in the next step to equalize the pressure in your insulin vial. Match the black plunger tip with the correct marking on the syringe.

Syringes are available in different sizes. Your pharmacist or diabetes educator can help you choose the right size for your dose.

Equalize the Pressure

Step 3: Remove the cap from the top of the insulin vial to reveal the rubber stopper. Remove the needle cover. Put the needle through rubber stopper and push the plunger to put the air into the bottle. (This will help equalize the pressure or vacuum in the bottle, making it easier to withdraw insulin.)

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Turn the Bottle

Step 4: Turn the bottle upside down, leaving the needle in place. The needle tip should be fully covered by insulin (or submerged in insulin).

Measure Your Dose

Step 5: Pull the plunger down to measure your dose, again using the black tip of the plunger to match the markings on syringe.

It will feel awkward at first. You may feel like you need a third hand! Be patient -- each time it will get a little easier.

Pull Out the Needle

Step 6: Pull the needle out of bottle. Set the syringe down, positioning the needle just over edge of table to keep it away from germs.

Choose Injection Site

Step 7: Choose an injection site. The preferred place to inject insulin is the abdomen. It provides the best absorption and is easy to reach. The boundaries: bottom of the ribs to pubic line, avoiding 3-4 inches surrounding the navel. The top of the thighs and back of the upper arms (if you are flexible) may also be used.

Other injection site tips:

  • Imagine a checkerboard drawn on your body; use a different square each time you inject.
  • Avoid areas with scarring (old surgery sites) or moles because the tough tissue may not absorb insulin well.
  • Your selected injection site may be numbed with an ice cube for 1-2 minutes ahead of time. Dry the skin with a clean cloth or tissue before the injection.

Ease the pain of your first injection.

Inject Yourself

Step 8: There are four steps to injecting yourself:

A. Hold the syringe like a pencil.

B. Gently pinch up skin with your free hand and quickly insert the needle at a 90-degree angle.

C. Release the pinch.

D. Push down on the plunger in a steady motion until insulin is gone. Pull the needle straight out of the skin. It is normal to sometimes see a small drop of blood or a bruise.

Choose a Needle That Works for You

Different needle lengths and gauges are available. When using a "short" needle, leave the needle in place for a 5-second count to help prevent leakage of insulin.

Even though you can do a lot to make an insulin injection more comfortable, it is not a natural thing. Anticipation is usually the most difficult part. Try taking a deep breath or counting to three the first time. Relief is guaranteed to follow!

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