A subcutaneous (sub-Q) injection is a shot that delivers medicine into the layer of fat between the skin and the muscle. This type of injection can be given by a healthcare professional, or a patient can self-inject.
Body Tissue Layers
Reasons for Procedure
Some medicines need to be injected because they are not effective if taken by mouth. Subcutaneous injections are an easy way to deliver this type of medicine. Examples of medicines 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 will help prevent infection.
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
- Make sure you have all of the items you will need easily available: syringe, medicine, 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 medicine.
- 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 medicine into the wrong area
- You get a rash around the injection site
- You develop a fever or experience signs of allergic reaction
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease: National Institutes of Health
NIH Clinical Center
Cancer Care Ontario
Health And Human Services. Selecting, evaluating, and using sharps disposal containers website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/97-111. Accessed October 23, 2007.
How do I administer Lovenox? The Children’s Hospital (Denver, CO) website. Available at: http://www2.uchsc.edu/thrombophilia/docs/Administer_LOVENOX.pdf. Accessed on October 23, 2007.
Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center website. Available at: http://www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com/alerts/diabetes/JohnsHopkinsHealthAlertsDiabetes_949-1.html. Accessed October 23, 2007.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, National Institutes of Health website. Available at: http://www2.niddk.nih.gov/. Accessed October 14, 2005.
Last reviewed December 2013 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.