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Insulin Pump 101: Everything You Need to Know About Insulin Pumps

If you have diabetes, insulin pumps may be a good treatment option for you. Insulin pumps are small, medical electronic…(continue reading)

If you have diabetes, insulin pumps may be a good treatment option for you. Insulin pumps are small, medical electronic devices that provide insulin delivery directly into your body through a tiny tube called a cannula. There are many different insulin pumps on the market, so it can be difficult to decide which one is right for you. In this article, we will discuss the different types of insulin pumps and how they work, as well as the benefits and disadvantages of using an insulin pump. We will also answer some common questions about insulin pumps and which one is best for you.

What is an insulin pump?

An insulin pump is a small, computerized device that delivers insulin from an insulin reservoir via a catheter placed under the skin, also called a subcutaneous insulin infusion. These medical devices are used as a treatment option if you have diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, and require regular doses of insulin therapy. Diabetes can cause you to have high blood sugar, which is also called glucose. If you have type 1 diabetes, you will need an insulin pump or other insulin therapy, such as an insulin injection or insulin pen, as your pancreas has stopped making insulin. Typically, if you have type 2 diabetes you do not have insulin requirements or need insulin pumps as your body doesn’t respond to insulin due to a lack of insulin sensitivity called insulin resistance although there may be circumstances where your doctor may think you could benefit from using one. Treatment for type 2 diabetes usually involves lifestyle changes such as carbohydrate counting, making healthy food choices in your diet, and exercise.

Traditional pumps deliver insulin in two ways, bolus insulin (a large dose of insulin to cover meals) and background insulin (a small, constant dose of insulin to keep your blood sugar level from going too high or too low between meals), which is also called basal insulin. Insulin pumps can be programmed to deliver different amounts of insulin at different times of the day to provide additional insulin around mealtimes. 

How do insulin pumps work?

An insulin pump works by either delivering a small, continuous infusion of insulin 24 hours a day through a catheter placed under the skin, also called basal insulin and the amount being called your basal rate, or by delivering a large extra dose infusion of insulin pumped at once usually around mealtimes, which is called bolus insulin. The insulin pump is attached to your body with an infusion set, which consists of a small tube that goes from the insulin pump to a needle that is inserted just under the skin. The insulin pump delivers insulin through the infusion set into the fatty tissue just below the skin. Most insulin pumps are the size of a cell phone and can be worn on a belt or in a pocket.

What are the benefits of an insulin pump?

The main benefit for insulin pump users is that it can provide you with more flexibility and better blood glucose control with constant delivery of insulin. You will also have to inject yourself with insulin less if you use an insulin pump, with most people with type 1 diabetes only needing a shot every few days when using one. Insulin pumps can also help to reduce the risk of low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia, and can help you achieve your A1C goals. A1C is the blood test used to measure blood sugar levels and they are also more accurate than shots. Dosing your insulin is also easier and there is more flexibility and better glycemic control when you have the ability to bolus dose and help with high blood sugar level spikes in the morning, which is known as the dawn phenomenon. Despite all the benefits, always carry injectable insulin with you in case it may be needed.

What are the disadvantages of an insulin pump?

The main flaw in insulin pumps is that it requires a lot of daily care and maintenance. You will need to check your blood glucose levels frequently, unless you’re using a continuous glucose monitor or glucose sensors, enter information into the machine, and make adjustments to your insulin doses as needed to avoid a condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis. When the machine is new, you will need to learn how to operate it properly with your healthcare provider, which can take some time. You will also need to change your infusion set every two to three days and change your insulin pump every four to six years. Lastly, pumps and their equipment can be expensive if your insurance does not cover them and their supplies.

Who can use an insulin pump?

If you have type insulin-dependent diabetes, your doctor may recommend insulin pump therapy. Insulin pump therapy is also recommended for you if you have difficulty controlling your blood sugar with daily insulin injections to reduce your chance of hypoglycemia. Do not get an insulin pump if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant as the risk of ketoacidosis is higher during pregnancy. Also, if you do not like having the machine in your pocket or on your belt or you do not want to frequently check your blood sugar then an insulin pump may not be right for you.

What are the different types of insulin pumps?

There are three main types of insulin pumps: tubed, tubeless, and patch. Tubed insulin pumps have a small, flexible, plastic tube called a cannula that connects the insulin pump to the infusion set. Tubeless insulin pumps do not have a tube and the insulin pump is attached directly to the infusion set. Patch insulin pumps are small, disk-shaped insulin pumps that are worn on the body like a patch.

Which insulin pump is right for me?

The type of insulin pump that is right for you will depend on your individual needs and preferences. Speak with your doctor to see if insulin pump therapy is right for you and, if so, which type of insulin pump would be the best fit.

What are the different brands of insulin pumps?

There are three common brands for insulin pumps, Medtronic, Omnipod, and Tandem. All three brands have different models of insulin pumps with different features. No matter which insulin pump you use, it is important to remember that insulin pump therapy is not a cure for diabetes and that insulin pumps are a tool to help manage your diabetes.

What is the cost of an insulin pump?

The cost of an insulin pump will vary depending on the type of insulin pump you choose and your insurance coverage. Most insurance plans will cover the cost of an insulin pump but you will want to double-check with your insurance provider. Speak with your doctor and insurance company to get an estimate of the cost and to find an affordable insulin pump that meets your needs.

Summary

An insulin pump is a small machine that gives you insulin doses throughout the day. Insulin pumps are about the size of a cell phone and can be worn on your belt, in your pocket, or under your clothes. The insulin pump is connected to a thin tube called an infusion set that goes under your skin to deliver your daily insulin constantly or in one big dose around mealtime and can lower your risk of hypoglycemia. They are great if you do not want to do daily injections, want more accurate dosing, and want a lower risk of severe hypoglycemia but you will need continuous glucose monitoring. There are several different types of pumps and brands and you can talk to your doctor or health care provider to determine which is best for you. If you have any more questions about insulin pumps, please talk to your doctor, diabetes care team, or health care team about your diabetes management.

References and Sources:

American Diabetes Association 

UMass Chan Medical School 

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