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Insulin is used for people who have type 1 diabetes. It's also used if you have type 2 diabetes and other medicines are not controlling your blood sugar. If you have gestational diabetes, you may need to take insulin if diet and exercise have not helped to keep your blood sugar levels within your target range.
With little or no insulin, sugar (glucose) in the blood can't enter your cells to be used for energy. This causes the sugar in your blood to rise to a level that's not safe. When your blood sugar rises past about 10.0 mmol/L, your kidneys start to release sugar into the urine. This can make you dehydrated. If that happens, 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 symptoms of high blood sugar. It can also help to prevent emergencies such as diabetic ketoacidosis (in type 1 diabetes) and hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state (in type 2 diabetes). Insulin can help lower blood sugar too. This can prevent serious and permanent health problems from long-term high blood sugar.
Remember these key tips for giving insulin shots:
- Make sure you have the right dose of insulin, especially if you are giving two types of insulin in the same syringe.
- Practice how to give your shot.
- Store the insulin properly so that each dose will work the way it should.
How to prepare and give an insulin injection
Your health professional or certified diabetes educator (CDE) will help you learn to prepare and give your insulin dose. Here are some simple steps that can help.
To get ready to give an insulin shot, follow these steps.
- Wash your hands with soap and running water. Dry them well.
- Gather your supplies. Most people keep their supplies in a bag or kit so they can take them 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. Insulin stored at room temperature will last for about a month. Read and follow all instructions on the label, including how to store the insulin and how long the insulin will last.
- On a reusable insulin pen, note the date you started using it. Keep in mind that reusable pens expire. For example, a pen may expire 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 shot
How you prepare will depend on whether you are giving one type of insulin or mixing two types.
- To prepare a shot with a single type of insulin, follow the steps for preparing a single dose of insulin.
- To prepare a shot that has two types of insulin, follow the steps for preparing a mixed dose of insulin.
When you mix types of insulin to be given in one syringe, follow these precautions.
- If you mix NPH and short-acting regular insulin, you can use it right away. Or you can put it aside to use later. Keep it away from heat and light. For example, put it in a refrigerator.
- Insulin glargine (Lantus) and insulin detemir (Levemir) can't be mixed with other types of insulin. They also can't 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.
You may need someone to prepare your insulin injections ahead of time. Get help if you have poor eyesight, have problems using your hands, or can't prepare a dose of insulin.
Prepare the site
Before giving your shot:
- Choose the part of your body to inject. If you give your shots in different places on your body each day, 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 shot, let it dry.
Give the shot
Follow the steps for giving an insulin shot into the belly with a reusable insulin pen.
Cleanup and storage
After giving your shot, be sure to:
- Store your insulin properly so that each dose will work the way it should.
- 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 get rid of them in a metal container, such as a coffee can, that has a lid that screws on or that you tape down tightly. Or you can buy special containers for getting rid of used needles and syringes. You can also buy a small device that breaks the needle off the syringe. It stores the needle safely so it can be thrown away. Talk with your local trash disposal agency or pharmacy, or with 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. Do this until you feel comfortable with the steps for giving insulin. Then do the steps in front of your doctor or certified diabetes educator. Ask him or her how you did.
- Teach other family members how to give insulin shots. Make sure that at least one other person can prepare and give your insulin shot in an emergency. It's a good idea to let this person practice giving your scheduled insulin shot. Then he or she will be more familiar with it in an emergency.
- Never share syringes with another person. Sharing puts you at risk of getting diseases that can be transferred through blood, such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) or infection of the liver (hepatitis).
- Don't share insulin pens with anyone else who uses insulin. Even when the needle is changed, an insulin pen can carry bacteria or blood that can make another person sick.
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.
Current as of: December 20, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Donald Sproule MDCM, CCFP - Family Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
David C.W. Lau MD, PhD, FRCPC - Endocrinology
Current as of: December 20, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Donald Sproule MDCM, CCFP - Family Medicine & Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator & David C.W. Lau MD, PhD, FRCPC - Endocrinology