Diabetes: Giving Yourself an Insulin Shot
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If you have type 1 diabetes—or if you have type 2 diabetes and oral 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, 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. If you can drink enough fluid to prevent getting dehydrated, you'll be able to release excess sugar in your urine.
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 prevent serious and permanent complications from long-term high blood sugar.
Most people use insulin in an injection, or shot. It is given into the fatty tissue just under the skin. It also can be given through an insulin pump, an insulin pen, or a device that sprays the medicine into the skin (jet injector). And now skin patches are available with insulin in them, which can be worn for days. Experts are studying other ways of giving insulin, such as in an implantable pump. But this information is about insulin in syringes.
After you get past the initial anxiety, giving yourself a shot will become a routine part of your day. It's quite easy to learn the basics of drawing the insulin up into a syringe and injecting it. Although never pleasant, the sting of the injection is not bad and does not last long. More than 500,000 people do it every day. You can, too.
The three most important elements of success in giving insulin injections are:
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Insulin for injection comes in small glass bottles (vials) and cartridges. Both are sealed with a rubber lid. One bottle or cartridge contains many doses. To remove a dose of insulin from:
Note: If you are using a disposable insulin pen, talk with your doctor, pharmacist, or diabetes educator about how to use the pen properly. Giving insulin with these pens is not covered in this information.
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, 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.
Test Your Knowledge
To withdraw a single dose of insulin from a bottle, I 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.
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:
Test Your Knowledge
A person whose pancreas produces little or no insulin has to take insulin.
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.
Your health professional 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.
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 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. See storing insulin and prefilling syringes.
Prepare the site
Before giving your injection:
Give the injection
Follow these steps for giving an insulin injection.
View the slideshow on giving an insulin injection into the belly to see pictures of an injection.
Cleanup and storage
After giving your injection, be sure to:
Other tips for success and safety
Test Your Knowledge
Review the slideshow of steps for preparing a single dose of insulin. Give a copy of the steps to a health professional or someone else and have the person watch you prepare your dose of insulin. Ask the person to tell you how well you did. Repeat this process as many times as you need to.
Use the same process for preparing a mixed dose of insulin, if you need to take two types of insulin in one injection. Review the slideshow of steps for preparing a mixed dose of insulin.
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 a health professional and ask him or her how you did. Practice more if you need to. If you feel that you can do the task well, give yourself a dose of insulin while a health professional watches.
The first step in preparing insulin from a bottle is to roll the bottle gently between your hands.
When you are preparing a cloudy and a clear insulin to give a mixed dose, which do you put into the syringe first?
Now that you have read this information, you are ready to start preparing and giving insulin injections.
Talk with your doctor or diabetes specialist
If you have questions about this information, take it with you when you visit your doctor or diabetes specialist. You may want to mark areas or make notes in the margins on the pages where you have questions.
If you would like more information on preparing and giving insulin injections, the following resources are available:
eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise
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