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.
Body Tissue Layers
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.
Call Your Doctor
Contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
- 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
NIH Clinical Center
Canadian Diabetes Association
Cancer Care Ontario
Giving a subcutaneous injection. National Institutes of Health website. Available at: http://www.cc.nih.gov/ccc/patient_education/pepubs/subq.pdf. Updated June 2012. Accessed January 13, 2014.
How injection site rotation can help you control your diabetes. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: http://www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com/alerts/diabetes/JohnsHopkinsHealthAlertsDiabetes_949-1.html. Updated May 7, 2009. Accessed January 13, 2014.
Selecting, evaluating, and using sharps disposal containers website. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—National Institure for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/97-111. Accessed January 13, 2014.
Last reviewed November 2014 by Peter Lucas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.