Living with diabetes often involves using needles on a daily basis, whether it’s for drawing blood to keep track of glucose levels or for injecting insulin. Here are a few tips to make needles easier and safer to use.
Who’s afraid of needles?
Most of us know someone who is completely terrified of blood or needles. For someone living with diabetes, this type of fear can be a serious obstacle in managing and taking control of the disease. Indeed, to draw blood and check blood-sugar levels, the person must use a device called a blood glucose meter to poke the fingertip, ideally at least once a day. In addition, some diabetic patients must include daily injections of insulin to their treatment, which also requires the use of needles.
These days, needles that are used to draw blood from the fingertip, as well as those used for injecting insulin, are so fine and short that you barely feel a pinch, and sometimes even nothing at all. Manufacturers of needles and related devices make great efforts to reduce the discomfort and pain needs can cause in order to make their daily use easier for people who suffer from diabetes.
To check your blood-sugar levels, you must first lightly puncture the fingertip to obtain a drop of blood. The device used for drawing blood is called “lancet device.” It is easy to use and features a needle, called the “lancet.” After drawing blood on the fingertip, you place the drop on a test strip, which is attached to the meter and allows you to keep track of the levels of glucose in your blood.
Until a few years ago, some blood glucose meters required the user to obtain a much bigger drop of blood. Today, however, most blood glucose meters are designed in such a way that they only need a very small drop of blood. Consequently, puncturing the fingertip is now done with tiny needles that are practically pain-free!
The proper technique for drawing blood
When you start using a blood glucose meter to check your sugar levels, it is essential to get a complete tutorial from a health professional on the proper way to use it. Your pharmacist can teach you how to do so, and can also answer your questions regarding blood glucose and all other aspects of managing diabetes.
You can take certain measures to make it easier to draw blood, while also making it safer and less painful. Here are a few:
- Wash your hands with warm water and soap before each puncture
- Massage your hand, from the palm to the fingertip, to promote circulation.
- Poke the side of the fingertip, not the middle. This will cause less discomfort or pain.
- Don’t press the device too hard on the fingertip because it won’t make a difference. But don’t press too lightly, either, because you may have to do it again. Over time, you’ll find the right pressure to apply.
- The lancet device offers the possibility of adjusting the depth of skin penetration. Choose the shallowest depth that allows you to obtain a drop of blood, depending on the thickness of your skin.
- Use a different finger each time.
- Avoid puncturing the thumb and index finger as much as possible since those are the fingers you use the most.
- Never use the same lancet twice. Reusing lancets has many disadvantages, such as increasing the risk of pain and infection.
To successfully control their blood-glucose levels, many people have to use insulin. In these cases, insulin must be administered by subcutaneous injection (under the skin). Most people believe that this type of injection is less painful than intravenous (in a vein) and intramuscular (in a muscle) injections.
In general, a person injects insulin with a device called an insulin pen. Its name is perfectly suited since it does in fact look like a pen and contains a cartridge filled with insulin. Historically, the most common method to administer insulin was to draw it from a vial with a syringe before the injection. Some people still use this method, which means that they must measure the number of insulin units to inject themselves. Whether it’s an “old-school” syringe or an insulin pen, the injection device must be equipped with a needle at the tip to allow for the administration of insulin under the skin. Once again, as for lancets, the companies that make needles place high importance on designing high-performance needles that are surprisingly fine and small, making injections less uncomfortable.
Here are a few tips to reduce the discomfort and pain associated with insulin injections:
- Avoid reusing needles. Use a new needle for each injection.
- Alternate injection sites: arms, thighs, abdomen and buttocks.
- Opt for shorter needles of smaller gauge (diameter). Today, needles that are as short as 4 mm are available on the market.
- Ask your pharmacist to tell you about the various types of needles that are available for your insulin pen or syringe; at the same time, he or she can help you choose one.
- If you are feeling discomfort or pain during the injection, it may be because you are not using the best technique. Review it with the health professional who is following your diabetes. Ask him or her to watch you inject yourself and to suggest corrections, if needed.
- Make sure you are injecting insulin under your skin, not in a muscle. Ask your health professional to give you tips on how to do so.
At your disposal
Since you’ll have to handle needles and lancets and store them in your home, it is essential to take the proper measures to avoid all risks. Here are a few basic rules to follow:
- Always keep needles out of the reach of children.
- Never discard your needles and lancets (used or not) in the garbage. Imagine the risk of injury and distress to someone who might poke him or herself accidentally!
- At the pharmacy or CLSC, ask for a safe container, free of charge, to discard your needles and lancets. Once the container is full, bring it back to the pharmacist, who will safely dispose of it.
When you first start using needles as part of your diabetes-management treatment, it is normal to go through a short period of adjustment. It might be useful to take advantage of the many tips your health professionals, such as your pharmacist, can provide in terms of diabetes. Once you are familiar with these techniques, you’ll see that your views on needles will have changed. And you’ll most likely realize that there was nothing to fear after all!