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 180 mg/dL, 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 coma (in type 2 diabetes). Insulin can help lower blood sugar too. This can prevent serious and permanent health problems from long-term high blood

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
  • 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

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.

Get ready

To get ready to give an insulin
shot, follow these steps.

  1. Wash your hands with
    soap and running water. Dry them well.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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

Give the shot

Follow the steps for giving
an insulin shot in the belly. It’s also possible to give a shot in the arm.

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

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
  • 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:


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD – Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rhonda O’Brien, MS, RD, CDE – Certified Diabetes Educator
David C.W. Lau, MD, PhD, FRCPC – Endocrinology

Current as ofMarch 13, 2017