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Insulin: How to Give a Shot

Many people with diabetes need to take insulin to keep their blood glucose in a good range. This can be scary for some people, especially for the first time. The truth is that insulin shots are not painful because the needles are short and thin and the insulin shots are placed into fatty tissue below the skin. This is called a subcutaneous (sub-kyu-TAY-nee-us) injection.

The following instructions are for using a vial and syringe. For instructions on how to use an insulin pen, ask your doctor or diabetes educator.

What You Will Need

Before you give the shot, you will need the following:

  • Insulin (This comes in a small bottle or vial.)
  • Alcohol swab, or cotton ball moistened with alcohol
  • Syringe with needle (You will need a prescription to buy syringes from a pharmacy. Check with your pharmacist to be sure the syringe size you are using is correct for your dose.)
  • Hard plastic or metal container with a screw-on or tightly-secured lid

Parts of a Syringe and Needle

You will use a syringe and needle to give the shot. The parts are labeled below.

Drawing Up the Insulin into the Syringe

  1. Wash the work area (where you will set the insulin and syringe) well with soap and water.
  2. Wash your hands.
  3. Check the drug label to be sure it is what your doctor prescribed. Check the expiration date on the vial. Do not use a drug that is past the expiration date.
  4. Look at the insulin.
    1. Short or rapid-acting insulin (Regular, Humalog, NovoLog, Apidra) and Lantus or Levemir should appear clear. Do not use it if the drug appears to have pieces in it or is discolored.
    2. Intermediate or mixed insulin (NPH, 75/25, 70/30, or 50/50) will appear cloudy and white. This type of insulin should be gently mixed before use. To do this, roll the vial between your hands. You also can turn it gently.
  5. Remove the lid from the top of the insulin vial. (After the lid is removed, it will not go back onto the vial. The rubber top will provide a seal.)Wipe the rubber top with an alcohol swab or a cotton ball moistened with alcohol.
  6. Remove the plastic needle cap by pulling it straight off. Do not touch the needle. If the needle touches any surface, it will need to be replaced before you use it.
  7. Pull back the plunger of the syringe to the number of units of insulin you will be taking. This will draw air into the syringe.
  8. Place the drug vial on a flat surface, and push the needle through the rubber top. Push down on the plunger to push air into the vial.
  9. Turn the vial upside down, holding the syringe and needle in place.
  10. Make sure the tip of the needle is in the insulin solution. Then pull the plunger back by the flat knob. This will draw the insulin into the syringe. Keep pulling on the knob until the insulin reaches the prescribed number of units.
  11. Check for air bubbles in the syringe. This is important. Having air space instead of insulin may lead to an incorrect dose. To remove air bubbles from the syringe:
    • Hold the syringe with the needle pointing straight up (still in the vial).
    • Gently tap the barrel of the syringe so air bubbles float to the top.
    • Still holding the syringe upright, slowly push the plunger until you push all the air out of the syringe, back into the bottle.
    • Check the number of units of insulin in the syringe.
    • If you have too much or too little, adjust the plunger again until you have the right amount.
    • Remove the needle from the vial.
  12. Replace the needle cap. Place the syringe on a clean, flat surface.

Giving the Shot

Decide where on your body you will give the shot. Be sure to give the shot in a different place each time. You can stay in the same general area. Try to stay at least 1 inch from the last shot, any scars, and your belly button. Keep a diary to remember where your last shot was given.

  1. Wipe the area of skin with an alcohol swab or a cotton ball moistened with alcohol.
  2. Remove the needle cap. Hold the syringe in one hand.
  3. With the other hand, gently pinch up the skin around where you will give the shot (unless your doctor gives you different instructions) and hold firmly.
  4. Insert the needle at a 45- to 90-degree angle.
  5. Push down on the plunger until all of the insulin solution is gone from the syringe.
  6. Take the needle out of your skin.
  7. If you bleed when the needle comes out, place an alcohol swab over the skin right away. Press gently on the swab until bleeding has stopped. Do not rub the skin.
  8. Do not re-cap the needle.
  9. Throw away the syringe and needle in a hard plastic or metal container. Close the lid tightly. When the container is full, tape the lid down, and throw it away in the garbage, (but not with recyclables). Note: Check your town’s guidelines on syringe disposal.


Most people find that taking insulin is not as hard as expected. When blood sugars are in control, you feel healthy. This often happens when people with diabetes take insulin.

If you have any questions about these instructions, call your doctor or nurse.

Reviewed July 2013

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