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Subcutaneous injection (SC): Administering medication below epidermis and dermis layers into the subcutaneous tissue. This route is commonly used for insulin and heparin.


Subcutaneous (SC) injections are administered into the adipose tissue layer just below the epidermis and dermis. This tissue has few blood vessels, so drugs administered by this route have a slow, sustained rate of absorption. Sites for SC injections include the outer aspect of the upper arm, the abdomen (from below the costal margin to the iliac crest) within one inch of the belly button, anterior aspects of the thighs, upper back, and upper ventral gluteal area.
Choosing a site that is free of skin lesions and bony prominences. Site rotation prevents the formation of lipohypertrophy or lipoatrophy in the skin. Physical exercise or application of hot or cold compresses influences the rate of drug absorption by altering local blood flow to the tissues. Any condition that impairs that blood flow to the subcutaneous tissue contradicts the use of subcutaneous injections. Examples of subcutaneous medications include insulin, opioids, heparin, epinephrine, and allergy medication.
To administer an SC injection, a 25 to 30 gauge, 3/8 in. to 5/8 in. a needle is used. Some subcutaneous injections come prefilled with the syringe attached. Always confirm that the right-size needle is appropriate for the patient before use. Subcutaneous injections are usually given at a 45- to a 90-degree angle. The angle is based on the amount of subcutaneous tissue present. Generally, give shorter needles at a 90-degree angle and longer needles at a 45-degree angle. SC injections do not need to be aspirated as the likelihood of injecting into a blood vessel is small. Usually, no more than 1 ml of medication is given subcutaneously, as larger amounts may cause discomfort to the patient and may not be absorbed appropriately.
There are varying opinions on whether to pinch the skin during administration. Pinching is advised for thinner patients in order to lift the adipose tissue up and away from the underlying muscle and tissue. If pinching is used, release the pinch when the needle is inserted to avoid injecting into compressed tissue. Note, too, that elevating or pinching the skin has been found to increase the risk of injury, as the needle may pierce the opposite side of the skin fold and enter the skin of the health care worker. The abdomen is the best location for an SC injection if a patient has little peripheral SC tissue. If a patient is obese, use a needle that is long enough to insert through the tissue at the base of the skin fold.


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You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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