What is Subcutaneous Insulin?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2019
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Subcutaneous insulin is insulin designed and packaged for subcutaneous administration. It can be a synthetic insulin product or an animal derivative, with synthetics being extremely popular in many regions of the world. People obtain subcutaneous insulin by prescription only and must observe a number of handling precautions for the insulin itself along with the needles and other supplies needed to administer it. Generally, people who use subcutaneous insulin will need a medical sharps container to handle their medical waste.

The most common reason to need subcutaneous insulin is because of type I diabetes, characterized by insufficient production of this vitally necessary hormone. Type I diabetics take insulin to compensate for the hormone their bodies are not producing, and subcutaneous administration tends to be the preferred drug delivery method. It is also possible to take transdermal or inhalation insulin. No versions of insulin are available for oral administration currently, because it would be broken down in the stomach before it could be absorbed.


There are two ways to administer subcutaneous insulin. The first is with a subcutaneous injection in an area like the stomach or the arm. In this case, the injection site is prepped by cleaning with an alcohol swab, and the patient draws up insulin, uses a prefilled needle, or breaks open an insulin pen. The device is used to inject the insulin just under the skin, so that it can be absorbed by the body. Dosages and schedules vary, depending on the patient. Injection sites may need to be periodically rotated to avoid infections and other problems.

Another option is an insulin pump. Insulin pumps can deliver a steady infusion of subcutaneous insulin along with boluses, larger doses which can be triggered by the patient. Some patients with diabetes prefer using a pump to handling needles, and may find the pump more comfortable for being out and about. Pumps can be prescribed by a physician after doctor and patient discuss the risks and benefits of the pump and the patient indicates a full understanding of how the pump should be used.

There are a number of brands of subcutaneous insulin on the market. Both short and long acting versions are available for patients. Long acting versions can increase the time needed between injections, making insulin administration less intrusive, while long acting versions can be used to deliver insulin quickly when a patient is in need of an immediate infusion.


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Post 3

I always wondered why diabetics couldn't just take a pill, but had to use a subcutaneous syringe to administer their insulin. It makes sense now, since insulin is broken down in the stomach. I suppose it wouldn't do any good to take insulin orally because it wouldn't make it into your system.

Anyway, I'm personally a bit squeamish about needles. I don't know if I could inject myself all the time. If I was a diabetic, I would probably try to find the best insulin pump and just get my insulin that way.

Post 2

@starrynight - That's crazy that your cat needs insulin! From what I understand that stuff isn't cheap, even with insurance. And I'm sure you probably don't have any insurance to cover your cat!

Anyway, I'm fascinated by all the delivery systems that exist for subcutaneous insulin today. As the article said, you don't have to use a syringe anymore if you don't want too. You could get a subcutaneous insulin pump, which seems pretty high tech to me. It must be nice for diabetics not to have to worry about giving themselves a shot at certain times during the day.

Post 1

I actually have experience with administering syringe insulin, but not for myself. I have a diabetic cat! He need subcutaneous insulin once a day to control his blood sugar.

Unlike a human, a cat get an insulin injection right in their scruff, as opposed to on its stomach or something like that. From what I understand (and observe) it doesn't seem to hurt my cat at all. I usually try and give him his shot while he's eating, and sometimes he doesn't even seem to notice.

One thing I also do to make him more comfortable is I try to vary the injection site. I'm sure humans are supposed to do this too, so one area doesn't get irritated.

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