Do Insulin Shots Make You Squeamish?
Injecting yourself with insulin several times a day to manage your diabetes might be easier than you think. Follow these expert steps to minimize the pain and calm your fears.
1. Know that it won't be as bad as you imagine.
Most people are nervous but soon realize they can handle it.
"The anticipation is much worse than the actual injections," says Florence Brown, MD, director of the diabetes and pregnancy program at Joslin and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "Once people get through the 'hurdle' of the first injection, it's usually pretty smooth sailing."
Myths about what's involved may be fueling your fears. Some common ones: People assume they'll have to inject the medication into a muscle, which would require a long, thick needle (the kind that's sometimes used for a flu or tetanus shot). Others think it's like an IV and they'll need to find a vein. Some worry that insulin shots will hurt more than the finger pricks they've been doing to test their blood sugar. None of these are true.
In reality, the needles are thin, and you inject into areas that have far fewer nerve endings than your fingertips. "The insertion of the needle will be at most a discomfort, like a mosquito bite, but no one believes this until they take the first injection," says Suzanne Ghiloni, RN, CDE, a diabetes nurse educator at Joslin Diabetes Center.
To ease your anxiety and learn the proper technique, Brown suggests you call upon a certified diabetes educator right away. Ask your doctor to recommend someone, or visit diabeteseducator.org to find one in your area. Chances are this expert will have you do your first injection in their office (sometimes using saline, instead of insulin, for practice) so they can help you learn.
2. Use the right tool.
If big needles freak you out, downsize. Insulin syringes and pen needles range in size and thickness (gauge), so ask your doctor or pharmacist for the shortest, thinnest one available, says Toby Smithson, RD, CDE, founder of DiabetesEveryDay.com.
It's also important to use a fresh needle every time, says Kellie Antinori-Lent, RN, CDE, a diabetes nurse specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-Shadyside Hospital. "One use dulls the needle enough to cause discomfort if reused," she says.
Wondering whether you should opt for a syringe or a pen? If you're anxious about getting the dose right, Brown recommends the pen. It's easier to dial the dose on a pen than it is to see the markings on a syringe. Smithson also prefers pens, noting that they're comfortable to grasp and that they look like less of a medical device. "It's just like holding a writing utensil, which feels a little more normal than holding a syringe," he says.