Using an Injection Pen

Your healthcare provider has prescribed a medicine that you can give yourself using an injection pen. One medicine that's often given with an injection pen is insulin. Injection pens are popular because they are easy to use. Also, many people feel more comfortable using something that looks like a pen instead of a syringe. Some kinds of pens can be thrown away (disposable). Others shouldn't be thrown away (nondisposable).

Disposable pens come already filled with a set amount of medicine. Once you inject the medicine, you throw the pen away. With nondisposable pens, you replace the medicine holder (cartridge) when it's empty.

Both types of pens use a pen needle. This is screwed onto the tip of the pen before you use it. Pen needles come in different lengths and thicknesses. Always throw away needles right after you use them. Never reuse needles.

  • Standard pen needle. This needle often has a removable outer and inner cover. Both covers need to be removed before the injection.

  • Safety pen needle. This needle has a removable outer cover. The inner cover is a fixed safety shield that's not removed. Instead, as you press the injector against the injection site, the shield is pushed back to expose the needle.

When you get a new box of needles, always check to see what kind of needle it is. It might be different from what you are used to. Talk with your healthcare provider if you are not sure how to use the needles.

Home care

Each pen will come with its own special instructions. Read the directions that came with your pen. Discuss the instructions with your healthcare team if you have any questions. In general, follow these steps when using the injection pen.

First, get these supplies together:

  • Alcohol swabs

  • Injector pen

  • Cartridge, if the pen is nondisposable

  • Special container for the used needles and disposable pens (sharps container) You can buy a sharps container at a pharmacy or medical supply store. You can also use an empty laundry detergent bottle, or any other puncture-proof container and lid.

Then get the pen ready:

  • Wash your hands.

  • Remove the pen cap.

  • Check the medicine to make sure it's the type that your healthcare provider prescribed. Make sure that it has not expired and is not discolored, frosted, or lumpy. If the medicine doesn't look right to you, don’t use it. Get a new cartridge or a new disposable pen. Never share needles, injection pens, or medicine cartridges.

  • Attach a needle to your pen. Read the directions that came with your pen. They contain steps for attaching a needle. If you’re using a nondisposable pen, don’t leave the needle attached to the pen between shots.

  • Some medicines need to be mixed. Mix the medicine by rolling the pen between the palms of your hands about 20 times. You can also tip the pen back and forth.

Prime your pen and make sure that it's working by doing a test shot into the air. Do this before you actually inject the medicine. Then set the dose.

  • Dial the pen to deliver 2 or 3 units of medicine.

  • Hold the pen like a pencil, with the needle pointing up.

  • Tap the barrel of the pen. This will make sure any air bubbles in the cartridge float to the top of the cartridge.

  • Push down firmly on the pen's injector button. This will shoot medicine into the air. You should see a couple of drops of medicine come out of the needle. If nothing comes out, try doing another air shot. If medicine still doesn't come out after a second try, your pen may be low on medicine. Or the needle may not be connected properly. Read the troubleshooting tips in the directions that came with your pen.

  • Set your dose. Dial the pen to deliver the amount of medicine you need to take. As you turn the dial, you should hear a clicking sound. Your pen is now ready to use.

  • Choose an injection site. The belly (abdomen), upper arms, thighs, and buttocks are the most common sites to use. Stay away from sites that are close to a mole or scar, or that are closer than 2 inches to your belly button. Ask your healthcare provider if you aren’t sure where to inject. Don't inject in the exact same place each time. This could cause skin or tissue problems. Inject at a slightly different place each time, even if it's on the same body part.

  • Make sure the site is clean. Clean it with an alcohol swab. Let it dry.

  • Pinch up a fold of skin around the site you have selected. Hold it firmly with one hand.

  • Hold the injection pen like a pencil in your other hand.

Inject your medicine

Insert the needle into your pinched-up skin. The needle should be straight up and down. Thin adults or children may need to inject with the needle at an angle slightly to the left or right.

  • Make sure the needle gets all the way into the fatty tissue below the skin.

  • Push the pen injection button. Unless you take a very small dose, the injection should take a couple of seconds. You may have to hold the pen in place for 5 to 10 seconds after injecting. Carefully follow your provider's instructions.

  • Let go of the skin and remove the needle from your skin.

After the injection

  • For a nondisposable pen, remove the needle by unscrewing it.

  • Put any used needles and disposable pens in the sharps container. Make sure that needles point down. Never put your fingers into the container.

  • When the sharps container is full, check with your local health department, pharmacy, healthcare provider's office, healthcare facility, or trash service to see what disposal methods are available in your area.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Problems that keep you from giving your injection

  • Bleeding at the injection site for more than 10 minutes

  • Pain at the injection site that does not go away

  • You inject the medicine in the wrong area

  • You inject too much of the medicine

  • Rash at the injection site

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as advised by your provider

  • Redness, warmth, swelling, or drainage at the injection site

  • Signs of allergic reaction, such as trouble breathing, hives, or a rash

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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