How to Give an Insulin Pen Injection

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Injections can seem intimidating at first, but practice makes perfect. Whether you are learning to inject for the first time using a pen or you’re already an accomplished injector via syringe, there are a few steps to keep in mind to master the art of a pen.

The Basics

Make sure you know what type of insulin you’re taking and how much. Is it a day’s worth of long-acting insulin? Or a meal coverage of rapid insulin? Since pens can look and feel similar to one another, double-check to avoid any mix-ups.

It’s also important to be certain of the condition of the insulin you’re using. For good insulin pen storage practices, check out our Thermometers + Insulin page.

Prep

Wash your hands and pick an injection spot. It’s a good idea to write down where you inject each time in a place that’s convenient for quick reference in order to avoid a buildup of scar tissue.

If the insulin you’re delivering is mixed, or “cloudy,” roll the pen between your palms and then hold the pen vertically and tip it upside-down several times to thoroughly mix it.

Clean your skin with an alcohol swab. Take the cap off of the insulin pen and wipe off the rubber seal that sits above the insulin reservoir with some alcohol, too — using a different swab.

Take a needle and remove the plastic covering on the base (on the opposite end of the “needle” part). Align the base of the needle onto the pen and twist until it sits snugly on there, but not too tightly. Then remove the protective cap from the needle itself.

Test

Set up a “safety shot” by dialing two units of insulin. Hold the pen vertically, like you would a syringe (with your thumb on the button and the needle in the air) and press the dosing button. Check to make sure the drops of insulin coming out of the tip of the pen are visible; if they are not visible during the first safety shot, repeat this step until you can see the drops.

Inject

Calculate your dose and dial the amount on the pen. With one hand, pinch the fat around the injection spot so that the insulin can enter the body subcutaneously.

Use the other hand to hold the pen and firmly  insert the needle into the skin. The angle of insertion depends on the needle length and the amount of fat that can be pinched to protect the muscle underneath—ask your diabetes team what angle is the best for your body.

Once the needle is completely inserted, press the button all the way down. Count to six or ten (depending on the amount on insulin injected) before taking the needle out.

Clean up

Check for any bleeding and gently apply an alcohol swab if needed.

Needles are single-use, so place the plastic cap back on and twist (counter-clockwise) to separate the needle from the pen. Check out our guide on sharps disposal for tips on how to properly get rid of used needles.

Put the pen cap back on. If this is your first time opening a particular pen, try writing the date on a small piece of tape with a Sharpie and wrapping it around the pen cap or the pen itself (taking care not to cover the dosing measurements or the little window to preview the insulin) to keep track of how long the pen has been in use.