What is an insulin pump?
Insulin pumps are small, computerized devices. They are about the size of a small cell phone. Insulin pumps deliver doses of insulin on a pre-programmed schedule. Insulin is the hormone that regulates your blood sugar.
You can wear an insulin pump:
- Attached to a strap under your clothes.
- In your pocket.
- On your belt.
- With an adhesive patch on your stomach or arm.
Why are insulin pumps used?
People who have diabetes don’t make enough insulin naturally. Instead, they have to use insulin injections to manage their blood sugar.
Pumps offer a steady stream of insulin so that you can have fewer needle sticks. They’re also a good option for children or anyone who has trouble remembering their insulin injections. Because insulin pumps stay attached to the body, some people find an insulin pump more convenient than insulin pen injections.
Who should use an insulin pump?
Using an insulin pump is a personal preference. You may want to use an insulin pump if you:
- Experience delays in food absorption.
- Are active and may want to pause insulin doses when exercising.
- Have severe reactions to low blood sugar.
- Have diabetes and are planning a pregnancy.
Insulin pumps can also be a good option for young people with Type 1 diabetes. A pump can deliver a steady supply of insulin, even for children and others who might have trouble sticking to a schedule for insulin injections.
What’s the difference between a traditional insulin pump and a patch pump?
Traditional insulin pumps push insulin from a chamber within the pump through tubing to a site on the skin that is connected to a smaller flexible plastic tube (cannula). The cannula is a few millimeters long and delivers the insulin underneath your skin.
Insulin patch pumps also use a flexible plastic tube (cannula) under the skin, but the insulin delivery chamber and the cannula are part of one “pod” that sits in the skin with an adhesive patch. You can place the patch directly on your belly or arm. There is no external tubing with a patch pump, and it’s controlled wirelessly with a handheld controller.
The tubing and cannula are removed and replaced every two to three days. A healthcare provider called a Diabetes Care and Education Specialist will show you how to do this.
Common insulin pump brands include:
- Medtronic (MiniMed™).
What happens while using an insulin pump?
An insulin pump delivers insulin in one of two ways:
- Small, continuous insulin doses (basal insulin).
- Surges of insulin near mealtimes (bolus insulin).
While using an insulin pump, you still need to check your blood sugar levels. Most people check blood sugar at least four times a day. Or you may use a continuous glucose monitor.
The pump uses information you enter about your food intake and blood sugar levels to calculate how much bolus insulin you need. The pump then recommends a bolus dose to you and waits for your approval before delivering. In addition, some pumps automatically adjust basal doses based on glucose levels from a continuous glucose monitor.
Risks / Benefits
What are the advantages of insulin pumps?
Many people choose insulin pumps because they offer:
- Consistent, adjustable insulin delivery.
- Fewer insulin injections.
- Flexibility and privacy.
- Improved blood sugar levels.
What are the risks or complications of insulin pumps?
Insulin pumps have a low risk of complication. Pumps provide more precise insulin doses than injections, so pumps may carry less risk for people who struggle with calculating their dosages.
Possible cons of using an insulin pump can include:
- Inability to hide the tubing or pump with non-patch styles.
- Higher cost than injections.
- Pumps breaking or tubing becoming disconnected.
There is also a risk of setting up the pump incorrectly. It’s crucial to use the insulin pump properly and continue to check your blood sugar regularly. If you don’t, you might not get the insulin you need, which can be dangerous and even life-threatening. First-time users should ask their healthcare provider for setup instructions.
Recovery and Outlook
What is the outlook for people using an insulin pump?
Insulin pumps offer lifestyle freedom and flexibility. All people with Type 1 diabetes and some people with Type 2 diabetes will need some type of insulin injection option for the rest of their lives. Insulin pumps can make diabetes treatment easier.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I see my healthcare provider?
If you have diabetes and are curious about insulin pump options, talk with a healthcare provider or a Diabetes Care and Education Specialist. There are many types of insulin pumps on the market. Ask your provider which option is right for you.
Insulin pumps can offer a flexible option for insulin delivery. The pump works by sending continuous insulin or insulin surges directly into your bloodstream. Many people with diabetes find insulin pumps to be more convenient than insulin injections. Insulin pumps aren’t permanent. You can change your mind and return to injections if you don’t like using an insulin pump. There are many insulin pump brands on the market. Speak with your healthcare provider to figure which option is right for you.
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