A subcutaneous (sub-Q) injection is a shot that delivers medication into the layer of fat between the skin and the muscle. This type of injection can be given by a healthcare professional, or it can be self-injected.
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Reasons for Procedure
Some medications need to be injected because they are not effective if taken by mouth. Subcutaneous injections are an easy way to deliver this type of medication. Examples of medications given by sub-Q injection include:
- Insulin for people with diabetes
- Low molecular weight heparin (such as enoxaparin) to prevent blood clots
Any break in the skin can increase the risk of infection. However, following the steps outlined below will help prevent infection.
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
- Make sure you have all of the items you will need easily available: syringe, medication, cleaning materials, etc.
- Wash hands with warm, soapy water. Dry with a clean towel.
- Select a site. Cleanse the area (about 2 inches) with a fresh alcohol wipe.
- Wait for the site to dry.
Giving the Subcutaneous Injection
- Remove the needle cap.
- Pinch a 2-inch fold of skin between your thumb and index finger.
- Hold the syringe the way you would a pencil or dart. Insert the needle at about a 45-degree angle to the pinched-up skin. (The needle should be completely covered by skin.).
- Slowly push the plunger all the way down to inject the medication.
- Remove the needle from the skin.
- If there is bleeding at the site of injection, apply a bandage.
- Immediately put the syringe and needle into a container that is puncture-proof.
- Find out what services are available in your area for disposing of biological waste.
General Injection Tips
- Change your injection site in a regular pattern.
- Give new injections at least 1.5 inches away from the last injection site.
Will It Hurt?
The needles for sub-Q injection are very thin and short, so pain is usually minimal. You may have some soreness later.
Tips for Minimizing Injection Pain
- Inject medication that is at room temperature.
- Remove all air bubbles from the syringe before injection.
- Break through the skin quickly.
- Do not change the direction of the needle as it goes in or comes out.
- Do not reuse disposable needles.
If the shots are for your child:
- The shots will be less painful as your child gets used to them and your technique improves.
- Before the injection, press gently in the area to find places where the skin is less sensitive.
- Change the site of the injections each time to reduce discomfort.
- Provide a distraction during the injection. Let your child read a book, play with a toy, or watch TV. Try breastfeeding or using a pacifier for infants.
Call Your Doctor
Contact your doctor if you develop complications such as:
- You are unable to give yourself the injection
- The injection site continues to bleed
- There is a lot of pain
- You inject the medication into the wrong area
- You get a rash around the injection site
- You develop a fever or experience signs of allergic reaction
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease: National Institutes of Health http://www.niddk.nih.gov
NIH Clinical Center http://www.cc.nih.gov
Canadian Diabetes Association http://www.diabetes.ca
Cancer Care Ontario http://www.cancercare.on.ca
Giving a subcutaneous injection. National Institutes of Health website. Available at: http://www.cc.nih.gov/ccc/patient%5Feducation/pepubs/subq.pdf. Updated June 2012. Accessed December 15, 2017.
Selecting, evaluating, and using sharps disposal containers website. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—National Institure for Occupational Safety and Health website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/97-111. December 15, 2017.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
- Review Date: 05/2018
- Update Date: 05/16/2017