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Injecting insulin

You can inject insulin using an insulin pen and needle or some people use insulin vials and syringes instead of a pen. Or insulin can be released using a small electronic insulin pump which you attach to your body.

If you’re an adult and need to inject insulin – or help a loved one inject insulin – we’ve made a video with Emma showing how to inject in seven simple steps. And if you're nervous of injecting or don't like needles, that's completely natural, we've put together some tips to help you feel less worried about injections.

If you have a child and need to help them inject insulin, go to our page on children’s insulin injections and see our video with Marley and his mum Lauren.

Your healthcare team will talk to you about insulin if they think it’s the right medication for you. Together you’ll agree the type of insulin you need and how much you need to take (your dose) and how. Everything you need is available for free on prescription

Types of insulin pen

There are two types of insulin pens: 

  • a pen that already has insulin in which you throw away after it’s empty
  • a pen you can reuse with insulin cartridges that you change

Smart insulin pens

Smart insulin pens send information to an app on your phone or other device about your insulin doses. Like some other insulin pens, they also automatically record when and how much insulin you’ve taken. Two smart pens are now available on the NHS – the NovoPen6 or the NovoPen Echo Plus – which are compatible with certain disposable insulin cartridges. To use a smart pen, your smartphone or tablet will need to be one that supports a technology called Near Field Communication (NFC). Find out more about smart pens on the Novo website.

Another pharmaceutical company - Lilly have also developed smart pen technology. They have developed the Tempo Smart Button which can be attached to a Tempo pen, so that data about insulin dosage can be downloaded.

Keep an eye on our e-newsletter for all the latest diabetes tech. 

Watch our video on how to inject insulin safely using an insulin pen

Here’s Emma to show you how to inject insulin safely. There are seven simple steps and you can pause and rewind where you need to. If you know someone with diabetes or would like family and friends to understand more about injecting insulin, please click the share button and help others learn.

Your injection kit

To inject insulin safely you’ll need:

  • An insulin pen – this can be one that already has insulin in which you throw away after it’s empty, or a pen you can reuse by changing the insulin cartridge yourself.  
  • Your needle – this is small and thin, as it only has to go just under the skin, not into a muscle or vein. These can only be used once. 
  • A sharps bin or needle clipper – this is where you will safely throw away your needle. 

How to clean injection site, insulin pen and carry cases

To clean your skin before injecting insulin or to clean your insulin pen and carry case, use hot soapy water with a clean flannel or cloth. You don’t need separate wipes.

Main injection sites for insulin

You’re looking for fatty tissue so the main injection sites are usually your stomach (in a semi-circle under your belly button), sides of your thighs and your bum. It’s vital you choose a different spot each time – at least 1cm or half an inch from where you last injected. If not, hard lumps can appear that will stop your body absorbing and using the insulin properly. 

Talk to your diabetes healthcare team about where to inject, this may change depending on the type of insulin or if you are doing exercise for example. 

How to inject insulin with an insulin pen 

  1. Wash and dry your hands.
  2. Choose where you’re going to inject.
  3. Attach the needle to your pen – removing the outer and inner caps – point your pen upwards and dial up two units of insulin. Keeping your pen  upward,press the plunger until a drop of insulin appears from the top of the needle. (If no insulin appears, repeat this step until it does). This is known as priming, and helps regulate your dose by removing any air from the needle and cartridge.
  4. Dial your dose and make sure the spot you’re injecting is clean and dry. To clean, use soap and warm water. You do not need to use alcohol wipes.
  5. Insert the needle at a right angle (90° angle). You might want to gently lift the skin before injecting (or your nurse may have shown you how to do this). Press the plunger until the dial goes back to 0.
  6. Count to 10, slowly, to give the insulin time to enter your body before removing the needle.
  7. Throw away the needle using your needle clipper or sharps bin. Your healthcare team will tell you how to get rid of the bin safely when full.

How to avoid bruising and lumps

Sharps bin

Sharps bins and needle clippers are the safest way of disposing of your insulin needles and your lancets.  A sharps container  is usually a sealed plastic box or container you can get on prescription from your  GP surgery . When full, the box should be collected for disposal from your home or other agreed location (free of charge) by your local council. Your healthcare team should have information. 

A needle clipper removes the needle from your insulin pen, and is useful when you’re out and about. 

Clipped needles still need to be disposed of safely so make sure to put them into your sharps containers. 

How to reduce any anxiety about injections

Many people worry or feel anxious about starting insulin injections. You might be scared of needles, feel squeamish about injecting, worried about pain, or some people feel nervous or embarrassed about injecting in public. If you feel this way, you’re not alone. These feelings are natural but can be more serious if they start to impact on how you manage your diabetes, like skipping doses. 

There are lots of things you can try that could help, like finding a quiet place at work to do injections.  

  • Look into injection aids, like the TickleFLEX,which help to make injecting more comfortable and worry free. You just slide them over the needle and use the insulin pen in the normal way.  
  • Ease any discomfort by numbing the area with ice first, pinching the area where you’ll be injecting, and rotating injection sites. 
  • Use a distraction like counting, singing, or watch a video while injecting. 
  • Remember it’s OK to have fears and talk about them openly. 

If you’re worried about the needle itself, talk to your healthcare professional. They can advise on the right needle length for you and help you get used to doing injections.  

Injecting really cold insulin is more uncomfortable, so check out our guide to storing your insulin so you know how to keep it cool but not too cold.

Learning as much as you can about the benefits of insulin might also help you manage your feelings about the injections.

Many people tell us that injecting their insulin is less painful than doing a finger prick to test blood sugars. So f you are already managing this you may not find injecting insulin as worrying as you anticipate.

Some people find that writing a list of questions and worries is a useful way of processing it all. Bring this list along to your next diabetes appointment and remember there are no silly questions or worries, they are all valid. Your healthcare professional will appreciate anything you mention and it will help them give you the best support.

Try talking to others about it too – everyone’s different and you might learn some useful tips. Join one of our diabetes support groups or if you find it easier to chat to others online, use our online forum. You can also call our helpline to talk about your worries or ask us questions.

We know that diabetes doesn't just affect you physically, it can affect you emotionally too. Whatever you're feeling, you are not alone. We’ve put together some emotional support information you might find helpful and that you might like to share it with your family and friends too.

Avoiding lipohypertrophy, injection bruises and lumps

Bruising can happen when you catch a tiny blood vessel under the skin where you have injected. It is quite normal for this to happen occasionally when you are injecting regularly and you’re not doing anything wrong. 

If you are concerned, you could make an appointment with your diabetes specialist nurse who will be able to do a review of your injection technique. In some cases, bleeding and bruising can be reduced by something as simple as using a different sized needle or changing your needle after each injection. 

Some people notice hard lumps that can form if you inject in the same place too often. This might be lipohypertrophy (also known as lipos), or could be something called cutaneous amyloidosis. These lumps can stop the insulin from working properly, so make sure you rotate where you inject and choose a different spot each time. If you notice any lumps, especially if they're not going away, speak to your healthcare professional for more advice.

It is also possible that you might experience some skin irritations, speak to your healthcare team if this is a problem for you. 

Next Review Date
Content last reviewed
29 September 2022
Next review due
29 September 2025
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