Learning that you need to give yourself insulin shots may be frightening, but it shouldn't be. With the proper technique and modern disposable syringes, it is relatively pain-free. You also have the option of using an insulin pump which does not require shots but does require more upkeep.
Insulin is needed by all type 1 diabetics because their bodies do not produce enough insulin to sustain life. Many type 2 diabetics also develop the need for insulin shots as their bodies lose the ability to produce sufficient insulin or if they become resistant to the insulin they do produce.
How is insulin administered? Using insulin requires training with a diabetes educator and careful monitoring both at home and by your physician.
Insulin and Other Tools
In most states, insulin requires a doctor's prescription. There are many varieties of insulin and your doctor will choose one or two types to start you on. Most people use a short acting insulin, called bollus, and a longer acting insulin, called basal. The types prescribed will affect whether you can mix them in one syringe or have to give two shots. Some insulins come pre-mixed, and these are the simplest to use.
You will also need syringes, a blood glucose meter and test strips. Some states require prescriptions to purchase syringes, and other require a prescription only under certain circumstances. In any case, your insurance should reimburse you for the cost of the syringes only if purchased by prescription.
Glucose meters can be bought over the counter in any pharmacy. However, if you have medical insurance, have your doctor prescribe the meter and strips so you can have insurance pay for them. While meters are relatively inexpensive, the test strips cost quite a bit.
Giving Yourself a Shot
Regardless of the type of insulin used and whether or not mixing is allowed, the basic technique for administering insulin remains the same. Your diabetes educator will have taught you how to determine dosage based on your own particular needs. Some people take one or two standard dose shots a day, while others choose to count carbohydrates and adjust dosages based on their blood glucose readings and carbohydrate intake.
- Measure your blood glucose with your meter and record the numbers, time of day, and any other unusual conditions such as illness or stress. These records will help your educator and doctor fine tune your insulin regimen.
- Wash your hands.
- After figuring your dosage, draw the syringe plunger back until it reaches the number of units you want to inject.
- If your insulin is cloudy, roll the vial between your hands to mix it thoroughly. Clear insulins do not need to be stirred.
- Clean the rubber cap of the vial with an alcohol swab.
- Place the needle in the soft rubber cap of the insulin vial, depress the plunger to put air into the vial to displace the insulin you plan to remove.
- Pull the plunger back until you have drawn up the required dose.
- Pinch skin on your abdomen, buttocks, upper thigh, or upper arm between two fingers and quickly jab the needle in perpendicular to the skin. You should feel little or no pain.
- Depress the plunger slowly to administer the dose.
- Withdraw the needle, cap it, and discard of it an approved sharps container. You can often get sharps containers free from local recycling centers.
Rotate the site of your shots each time you give yourself a shot.
Using an Insulin Pump
If you want to achieve very tight control, without the hassle of shots, you might consider an insulin pump. These pumps, about the size of a deck of cards, involve placement of a small catheter into a port inserted into your body. The catheter is attached to the pump, and you wear the pump all the time. The pump can be removed for bathing or swimming. To give yourself a dose of insulin, you just push a button on the pump. Because pumps are complicated to set up, your diabetes educator should teach you to use it.
Insulin Administration in the Hospital
If you are in the hospital for a condition unrelated to your diabetes, you may be allowed the option of administering insulin yourself if your doctors and nurses will allow you to do so. If you are unable to care for yourself, or if your condition is directly related to your blood glucose, the nurses will periodically monitor your blood sugar and give you injections as prescribed.