Hypodermic needle

For the theory on mass media effects, see Hypodermic needle model.
"Hypodermic" redirects here. For the song by The Offspring, see Ignition (The Offspring album).
Different bevels on hypodermic needles
Syringe on left, hypodermic needle with attached colour coded Luer-Lok connector on right

A hypodermic needle (from Greek ὑπο- (under-), and δέρμα (skin)) is a hollow needle commonly used with a syringe to inject substances into the body or extract fluids from it. They may also be used to take liquid samples from the body, for example taking blood from a vein in venipuncture. Large bore hypodermic intervention is especially useful in catastrophic blood loss or shock.

A hypodermic needle is used for rapid delivery of liquids, or when the injected substance cannot be ingested, either because it would not be absorbed (as with insulin), or because it would harm the liver. There are many possible routes for an injection.

The hypodermic needle also serves an important role in research environments where sterile conditions are required. The hypodermic needle significantly reduces contamination during inoculation of a sterile substrate. The hypodermic needle reduces contamination for two reasons: First, its surface is extremely smooth, which prevents airborne pathogens from becoming trapped between irregularities on the needle's surface, which would subsequently be transferred into the media (e.g. agar) as contaminants; second, the needle's surface is extremely sharp, which significantly reduces the diameter of the hole remaining after puncturing the membrane, which consequently prevents microbes larger than this hole from contaminating the substrate.[1][2][3][4]


Early use and experimentation

The ancient Greeks and Romans knew injection as a method of medicinal delivery from observations of snakebites and poisoned weapons.[5] There are also references to "anointing" and "inunction" in the Old Testament as well as the works of Homer, but injection as a legitimate medical tool was not truly explored until the 17th century.[6] Christopher Wren performed the earliest confirmed experiments with crude hypodermic needles, performing intravenous injection into dogs in 1656.[6] These experiments consisted of using animal bladders (as the syringe) and goose quills (as the needle) to administer drugs such as opium intravenously to dogs. Wren and others’ main interest was to learn if medicines traditionally administered orally would be effective intravenously. In the 1660s, J.D. Major of Kiel and J.S. Elsholtz of Berlin were the first to experiment with injections in humans.[5][7] These early experiments were generally ineffective and in some cases fatal. Injection fell out of favor for two centuries.

19th century development

The 19th century saw the development of medicines that were effective in small doses, such as opiates and strychnine. This spurred a renewed interest in direct, controlled application of medicine. "Some controversy surrounds the question of priority in hypodermic medication."[8] Dr. Francis Rynd is generally credited with the first successful injection in 1844.[9] Dr. Alexander Wood’s main contribution was the all-glass syringe in 1851, which allowed the user to estimate dosage based on the levels of liquid observed through the glass.[10] Wood used hypodermic needles and syringes primarily for the application of localized, subcutaneous injection (localized anesthesia) and therefore was not as interested in precise dosages.[7] Simultaneous to Wood’s work in Edinburgh, Dr. Charles Pravaz of Lyon also experimented with sub-dermal injections in sheep using a syringe of his own design. Pravaz designed a syringe measuring 3 cm (1.18 in) long and 5 mm (0.2 in) in diameter; it was made entirely of silver.[11] Dr. Charles Hunter, a London surgeon, is credited with the coining of the term "hypodermic" to describe subcutaneous injection in 1858. The name originates from two Greek words: hypo, "under", and derma, "skin". Furthermore, Hunter is widely credited with acknowledging the systemic effects of injection after noticing that a patient’s pain was alleviated regardless of the injection’s proximity to the pained area.[6][7] Hunter and Wood were involved in lengthy legal disputes over not only the origin of the modern hypodermic needle, but also because of their disagreement to the medicine’s effect once administered.

Modern improvements

Wood can be largely credited with the popularization and acceptance of injection as a medical technique, as well as the widespread use and acceptance of the hypodermic needle. The basic technology of the hypodermic needle has stayed largely unchanged since the 19th century, but as the years progressed and medical and chemical knowledge improved, small refinements have been made to increase safety and efficacy, with needles being designed and tailored for very particular uses.

The trend of needle specification for use began in the 1920s, particularly for the administration of insulin to diabetics.[12] The onset of World War II spurred the early development of partially disposable syringes for the administration of morphine and penicillin on the battlefield. Development of the fully disposable hypodermic needle was spurred on in the 1950s for several reasons. The Korean War created blood shortages and in response disposable, sterile syringes were developed for collecting blood. The widespread immunization against polio during the period required the development of a fully disposable syringe system.[12]

The 1950s also saw the rise and recognition of cross-contamination from used needles. This led to the development of the first fully disposable plastic syringe by New Zealand pharmacist Colin Murdoch in 1956.[13] This period also marked a shift in interest from needle specifications to general sterility and safety.

The 1980s saw the rise of the HIV epidemic and with it renewed concern over the safety of cross-contamination from used needles. New safety controls were designed on disposable needles to ensure the safety of medical workers in particular. These controls were implemented on the needles themselves, such as retractable needles, but also in the handling of used needles particularly in the use of hard-surface disposal receptacles found in every medical office today.[12]


Hypodermic needles are normally made from a stainless-steel tube[14] through a process known as tube drawing where the tube is drawn through progressively smaller dies to make the needle. The end is bevelled to create a sharp pointed tip letting the needle easily penetrate the skin.

Needle gauge

Six hypodermic needles on Luer connectors; from top to bottom:
  • 26G × 12″ (0.45 × 12 mm) (pink)
  • 25G × 58″ (0.5 × 16 mm) (orange)
  • 22G × 1 14″ (0.7 × 30 mm) (black)
  • 21G × 1 12″ (0.8 × 40 mm) (green)
  • 20G × 1 12″ (0.9 × 40 mm) (yellow)
  • 19G × 1 12″ (1.1 × 40 mm) (white)
See also needle gauge comparison chart.
Further information: Needle gauge comparison chart

The diameter of the needle is indicated by the needle gauge. Various needle lengths are available for any given gauge. There are a number of systems for gauging needles, including the Stubs Needle Gauge and the French Catheter Scale. Needles in common medical use range from 7 gauge (the largest) to 33 (the smallest) on the Stubs scale. 21-gauge needles are most commonly used for drawing blood for testing purposes, and 16- or 17-gauge needles are most commonly used for blood donation, as the resulting lower pressure is less harmful to red blood cells (it also allows more blood to be collected in a shorter time).[15] Although reusable needles remain useful for some scientific applications, disposable needles are far more common in medicine. Disposable needles are embedded in a plastic or aluminium hub that attaches to the syringe barrel by means of a press-fit or twist-on fitting. These are sometimes referred to as "Luer Lock" connections, referring to the trademark Luer-Lok.

Non-specialist use

Hypodermic needles are usually used by medical professionals (dentists, phlebotomists, physicians, nurses, paramedics), but they are sometimes used by patients themselves. This is most common with type one diabetics, who may require several insulin injections a day.[16] It also occurs with patients who have asthma or other severe allergies. Such patients may need to take desensitization injections or they may need to carry injectable medicines to use for first aid in case of a severe allergic reaction. In the latter case, such patients often carry a syringe loaded with epinephrine (e.g. EpiPen),[17] diphenhydramine (e.g. Benadryl) or dexamethasone. Although sometimes disconcerting to spectators, rapid injection of one of these drugs may stop a severe allergic reaction.

Multiple sclerosis patients may also treat themselves by injection; several MS therapies, including various interferon preparations, are designed to be self-administered by subcutaneous or intramuscular injection.[18]

In some countries, erectile dysfunction patients may be prescribed Alprostadil in injectable form, which is self-injected directly into the base or side of the penis with a very fine hypodermic needle.

Female-to-male transsexuals often use hypodermic needles for self-injection of prescription testosterone. Male-to-female transsexuals may also use hypodermic needles for self-injection of estrogen.

Hypodermic needles are also used in recreational intravenous drug use. Before governments attained current levels of awareness about the spread of disease through shared needles, hypodermic syringes in many countries were available only by prescription. Thus in order to limit the spread of blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis and HIV through shared injection equipment, many countries have needle exchange programs in most larger cities. In some countries, such programs are wholly or partially subsidized by the government.

Blunted needles, manufactured without a sharp bevel and usually non-sterile, are used industrially for filling small containers or accurately applying small amounts of solvent or glue.


Main article: Fear of needles

It is estimated that about 10% of the adult population may have a phobia of needles (trypanophobia), and it is much more common in children, ages 5–16. Patients can ask for a patch from the nurse to numb the area of where the injection will take place to reduce pain.[19]

See also


  1. Elsheikh, HA; Ali, BH; Homeida, AM; Lutfi, AA; Hapke, HJ (May–Jun 1992). "The effects of fascioliasis on the activities of some drug-metabolizing enzymes in desert sheep liver.". The British veterinary journal. 148 (3): 249–57. doi:10.1016/0007-1935(92)90048-6. PMID 1617399.
  2. Korenman, SG (September 1975). "Estrogen receptor assay in human breast cancer.". Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 55 (3): 543–5. PMID 169381.
  3. Scott, Gene E.; Zummo, Natale (1 January 1988). "Sources of Resistance in Maize to Kernel Infection by Aspergillus flavus in the Field". Crop Science. 28 (3): 504. doi:10.2135/cropsci1988.0011183X002800030016x.
  4. "Experimental Infection of Host Grasses and Sedges with Atkinsonella hypoxylon and Balansia cyperi (Balansiae, Clavicipitaceae)". Mycologia. 80 (3): 291–297. 1988. doi:10.2307/3807624. JSTOR 3807624.
  5. 1 2 Norn S, Kruse PR, Kruse E. "On the history of injection". Dan Medicinhist Arbog. 2006; 34:104-1
  6. 1 2 3 Kotwal, Atul. "Innovation, diffusion and safety of a medical technology: a review of the literature on injection practice" Social Science & Medicine Volume 60, Issue 5, March 2005, Pages 1133–1147
  7. 1 2 3 Ball C (Jun 2006). "The early development of intravenous apparatus". Anaesth Intensive Care. 34 (Suppl 1): 22–6.
  8. Logan Clendening, Source Book of Medical History, p. 419 (1960)
  9. Walter Reginald Bett, The History and Conquest of Common Diseases p. 145 (1954)
  10. Kotwal, Atul. Innovation, diffusion and safety of a medical technology: a review of the literature on injection practices Social Science & Medicine Volume 60, Issue 5, March 2005, Pages 1133–1147
  11. Discoveriesinmedicine.com
  12. 1 2 3 Beckton Dickinson and Company, "Four Major Phases of Injection Device Development" Syringe and Needle History Archived May 8, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. Science Museum, London, "Hypodermic syringe"
  14. How do they get the hole through a hypodermic needle? at The Straight Dope.
  15. Blood Transfusions and Angio Size?
  16. "Giving an Insulin Injection". Drugs.com. Retrieved 2010-08-19.
  17. "How to Stop Allergic Reactions". EpiPen. Retrieved 2010-08-19.
  18. "Multiple Sclerosis Treatments". mult-sclerosis.org. 2008-01-21. Retrieved 2013-01-13.
  19. "The Needle Phobia Page". Futurescience.com. Retrieved 2010-08-19.
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