Life with MS

Overcoming Your Fear of Injections

By Laura McCatty, RN, MSCN and Sherry Adcock, RN, MSCN

Even though most people with MS know that starting therapy can help minimize their risk of a relapse, some are reluctant to commit to long-term injections. You might have a very real fear of needles, or be concerned about injection site reactions, pain, and side effects.

Don’t let anxiety about injections keep you from using a medication that can help slow the progression of your MS. Damage from MS can start early and therapy with a disease-modifying drug is important to keep it in control. Even if you have had MS for years, there may be new things to learn. Try looking at your next injection day as a chance to have a positive experience using these tips.

Support can help you stick with it

Giving yourself a shot on a regular basis can be challenging. At first, it may feel frightening or awkward, but choosing and staying on a therapy for MS can also be empowering. You are in charge of your health.

Treating MS is a long-term commitment and a good support team provides you with the encouragement you need at all stages of that journey. You can get tips on your technique at an MS Center, at your neurologist’s office, or through a nurse specially trained in MS.

Starting with proper training, an MS nurse can teach you to overcome fears and be confident when giving yourself injections. Whether you are just starting on treatment or have been taking a DMT for years, they can offer assistance, answer questions and help you manage your medication. When things get hard, they are there to cheer you on. After a while, you will feel more self-assured and not need as much support.

Calming those needling feelings

It is important to start off with a positive attitude toward your therapy. Many people are able to limit their nervousness by using positive thinking or even prayer. When you talk to yourself, avoid negative words like “can’t” or “won’t.” Instead, try saying things like, “I will give this a try,” or “I can do this.” Remember, your MS injections are something you can control and that you are doing for your health.

If you are nervous about injections, you’re probably also concerned about the size of the needle. Needles for intramuscular injections, such as those for Avonex®, are 1.25 inches long; the subcutaneous needles used for Betaseron®, Copaxone® and Rebif®, are a half-inch long. You may find that a thinner needle is less painful. Betaseron recently introduced a 30 gauge needle comparable to those used by diabetics.

If seeing the needle bothers you, you might also consider using an autoinjector, an automated device that hides the needle administers your shot for you. Many people like using an autoinjector, others find them noisy and prefer to inject manually. Talk it over with your MS nurse or another supportive healthcare professional. Ask questions.

When to take action on a reaction

Injection site reactions can occur with any shot, not just those to treat MS. While many people tolerate injections without any problems, others can experience redness, bruising and discoloration. It doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong or that you are allergic to the medication. Injection site reactions typically decrease and often disappear altogether as a person stays on therapy.

Bruises or areas of redness often fade or change color as they heal. Itchiness, a lump or discomfort might surround the area. Avoid scratching, as this can damage the skin. A cool pack may soothe any discomfort or itching, but be careful – ice can damage the skin if used without a barrier. Keep your skin clean and healthy, and make sure you are doing everything possible to avoid contamination.

Let your doctor know if your injection site reactions are persistent or bothersome. Make sure to contact your healthcare provider immediately if you see any open, infected or black scabbed areas around your injection site. It is very important to rotate your injections to minimize skin irritation. Autoinjectors are known to decrease injection site reactions.

Give it your best shot

Some people experience pain with their injection that is not associated with an injection site reaction. They might notice that some medications cause them less pain than others. This differs from person to person. Talk to your doctor or MS nurse about finding a technique or therapy that will work for you. Remember that all people living with MS are different and what works for one person might not work for another.

If you are still nervous about giving yourself shots or experience a reaction or pain, don’t try to fix the situation by avoiding injections. Communicate with your doctor or a MS nurse – they are your partners for success. Ask them to review your injection technique in person. A few simple tips can make all the difference.

Laura McCatty, RN, MSCN and Sherry Adcock RN, MSCN are both MS Certified Nurses and members of the International Organization of MS Nurses. Laura and Sherry are BETA Nurses at BETAPLUS (formerly MS Pathways) and educate people about using Betaseron to manage their therapy and live well with MS.

(Last reviewed 7/2009)