Insulin pumps are wearable devices that people with diabetes use to deliver insulin. They are connected to a spot on your body and give insulin for 2 to 4 days.
An insulin pump is a small, wearable device that delivers insulin into your body. It’s an alternative to frequent insulin injections, and some pumps can communicate with continuous glucose monitors that track your blood sugar levels, too.
A 2019 review estimated that around 350,000 people use insulin pumps in the United States. About 90 percent of insulin pump users have type 1 diabetes and the remaining 10 percent have type 2 diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes are dependent on insulin and must inject it to survive.
This article will explain how insulin pumps work, and will also look at the advantages and drawbacks of these devices.
An insulin pump is intended to imitate the functions of a human pancreas. Your pancreas releases insulin in response to changes in your blood sugar level. But when you have diabetes, your body doesn’t release insulin or use it properly. As a result, you have to find another way to get the insulin you need.
Insulin pumps work by delivering a basal, or set, rate of insulin through a tube called a cannula. The cannula is inserted just under the top layer of your skin. Your doctor will work with you to determine the amount of insulin you need each day.
Insulin pumps can also deliver an insulin bolus. This is an extra dose of insulin besides your basal rate. A pump won’t automatically give you this extra dose of insulin, though. You need to tell the pump to administer the bolus dose.
Insulin pumps give you insulin according to how you program them. They don’t adjust on their own to your changing insulin levels. Some pumps can, however, adjust basal rates based on the blood sugar reading of a continuous glucose monitor.
They require special training on your part to make sure you can use them safely and effectively.
An insulin pump is usually about the size of a deck of cards, although the size can vary depending on the model. You wear the pump outside your body.
The pump usually consists of:
- a display screen
- a place for an insulin container
- a thin cannula, or tube, that attaches to your body
You can insert the cannula in a variety of places on your body. Some of the most common places include your stomach, thigh, or buttocks.
The cannula acts as the go-between from the pump to your skin. You place the little end of the cannula in the subcutaneous tissue below your skin. You’ll usually cover this end with a small, clear or flesh-colored bandage, so it stays in place and doesn’t become dislodged.
Innovations in pump technology mean that some pumps have extra features, such as:
- hypoglycemia suspension (will cut off when your blood sugar gets too low)
- touch screens
- waterproofing, to a certain depth
- wireless capability
The right pump for you depends on what type of diabetes you have, your insurance status, and your age. Some pumps are not approved for children.
Insulin pump availability can vary depending on a variety of factors. Also, insulin pump manufacturers may introduce new pumps or enhanced models, and phase out older models.
Additionally, some pumps may be recommended for certain ages or types of diabetes. It’s important to talk with your doctor about choosing a pump. This can ensure your pump of choice is the right option for you, your insulin needs, and your lifestyle.
Examples of commonly used insulin pumps include:
- Medtronic. Medtronic offers the Minimed 770G system (approved for type 1 diabetes for ages 2 and older) and the Minimed 630G system (approved for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes for ages 14 and older).
- Omnipod. The Omnipod DASH system is a Bluetooth-enabled patch-based system that provides 3 days of nonstop insulin management. Children and adults can use the Omnipod for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
- Tandem. Tandem makes the t:slim X2 insulin pump. This pump is intended for people with type 1 diabetes who are ages 6 and older.
An insulin pump can be a convenient way of managing your blood sugar and keeping your diabetes well managed. Let’s look at some of the key advantages.
- You don’t need to give yourself multiple insulin injections every day.
- You can get help with determining bolus doses.
- It’s helpful for administering bolus doses multiple times a day.
- It allows for more precise insulin doses compared to an insulin pen.
- Some types of pumps can communicate with continuous glucose monitors that track your blood sugar, and can administer insulin.
- An insulin pump may allow for a more flexible lifestyle compared to multiple daily injections.
Using an insulin pump isn’t always the best option for everyone. Let’s take a closer look at some of the drawbacks of this device.
- It takes training and practice to learn how to use an insulin pump properly. For this reason, it may not be the best option for younger children.
- It may be more expensive than daily insulin injections.
- You need to have a backup method in case the pump malfunctions.
- Depending on the type of insulin pump you use, it can be awkward to wear.
While an insulin pump and daily injections are both effective methods of managing your blood sugar levels, insulin pump therapy is better at managing these levels with a reduced risk of hypoglycemia. What’s most important is that you monitor your blood sugar carefully and follow your doctor’s instructions for managing your diabetes.
It’s very important that you spend time with a diabetes educator or your doctor to learn how to use your insulin pump properly.
Before you start using an insulin pump, it’s important that you know how to:
- attach the infusion set to your body
- change the insulin in your pump
- troubleshoot problems with your device
- change the infusion set
- manage the different features that the pump has
Most pumps contain a bolus dose calculator. This helps you calculate how much extra insulin you may need based on your daily carbohydrate intake.
Some pumps also offer an “extended bolus” option. This allows you to administer the dose over 2 to 3 hours. This option can help prevent hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Hypoglycemia is a potentially dangerous condition.
You must change the insulin in the pump according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. For example, rapid-acting insulin formulations such as lispro and aspart must be replaced every 144 hours or every 6 days, according to a 2019 study. Glulisine, on the other hand, should be replaced every 48 hours.
You should change the infusion site of your pump
Remember that insulin pumps cannot do everything to manage your diabetes. You play the most important role in managing your care, including:
- checking your blood sugar regularly
- managing your diet
- telling your pump what insulin dose to administer
An insulin pump is an alternative to giving yourself multiple daily insulin injections. This device is primarily used by people with type 1 diabetes, but about 10 percent of insulin pumpers have type 2 diabetes.
Some insulin pumps are connected to your body by a thin tube that delivers insulin
If you don’t want to give yourself daily insulin injections, an insulin pump may be a good option for you. However, it takes a lot of practice to use one correctly. That’s why it’s important to work closely with your doctor or a diabetes educator to understand whether an insulin pump is right for you.