An insulin pump is a small, computerized device that delivers insulin to the body via a tube, called a cannula. The catheter is inserted under the skin and designed to deliver a consistent flow of insulin through the day and night.
Patients with type 1 diabetes, or those who have type 2 diabetes and need insulin to help regulate blood sugar levels can benefit from an insulin pump.
Other methods of administering insulin in the body include syringes and pens. Insulin pumps tend to be favorable diabetes management devices, due to their accuracy and predictability in terms of insulin dosage and convenience in the administering process.
There are different types of insulin pumps, including traditional insulin pumps and insulin patch pumps. Traditional pumps use a tube separate from the device to administer insulin, while patch pumps hold the insulin directly on the skin to administer insulin without a tube.
Proper administration of insulin in patients with diabetes is crucial. When insulin in the body is low, blood sugar cannot be regulated properly. This leads to high blood sugar (called hyperglycemia.)
If hyperglycemia is left untreated, it can lead to long-term complications including diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening conditions.
How Does an Insulin Pump Work?
An insulin pump has two parts – the controller, or electronic display, and the reservoir that holds the insulin supply. The controller determines how much insulin is delivered by the pump at any given time, while the reservoir holds insulin.
The device delivers a steady stream of insulin in a way that simulates the body’s natural release of insulin. Insulin dosage is based on the number of units and the timing in which the insulin is released through the cannula (thin tube) inserted under the skin. Once the cannula is inserted under the skin, it can remain in place for up to several days.
The device also has safety features to prevent too much, or too little, from being injected into the body at any given time.
How an Insulin Pump Works
- Catheter is placed into the infusion site on the body, usually in the stomach area.
- Insulin from the pump is delivered through the catheter and administered directly into the body.
- The computer system uses real-time blood sugar readings to calculate and administer the ideal amount of insulin.
The pump administers a basal rate of insulin across 24 hours to keep glucose levels stable throughout the day. Patients then also take a bolus of insulin based on what they are eating to manage blood sugar spikes from food.
Advantages of Using an Insulin Pump
An insulin pump delivers multiple doses of insulin throughout the day to help patients better manage their blood sugar levels based on their individual needs. With an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor, the patient doesn’t have to manually inject insulin.
Insulin pumps can allow for a more flexible lifestyle with fewer stick needles, more accurate insulin dosage, safer administration and fewer instances of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar.)
Insulin pumps may be safer than daily injections.
Some people find pumps easier and safer to use than daily insulin injections, because they don’t need to remember which injection site they used last time or worry about injecting themselves with the right amount of medication each time. Injecting in the same spot numerous times can create bumps or pits in the skin and can “impair the body’s ability to absorb insulin” (Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists.)
Insulin pumps allow for greater accuracy in dosage.
Instead of having to measure insulin doses and inject the insulin each time, insulin pumps work continuously once the catheter is in place. The pump delivers specific amounts of insulin, based on pre-programmed basal and bolus settings (diaTribe Foundation.)
Insulin pump therapy is a more discreet alternative to syringes and injections and allows for a more flexible lifestyle. Patients don’t have to adjust physical activity levels and plan meals around the time and their last insulin injection. Insulin pumps allow patients to increase insulin as needed.
Fewer Stick Needles
Insulin pump treatment requires fewer stick needles for patients. Instead of administering four to five injections a day with insulin injections, insulin pump treatment requires only one injection every few days.
Fewer Blood Sugar Lows
Because insulin pumps deliver a consistent supply of insulin through the day and night, insulin pump use is known to cause fewer significant fluctuations in glucose levels. The device is designed to keep the patient’s glucose levels within the target range by adjusting insulin dosing accordingly.
Considerations Before Seeking an Insulin Pump
It’s important to consider all factors when deciding which diabetes treatment or management device is best for your case.
Patients are still required to check their blood sugar regularly with an insulin pump. High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) are both dangerous conditions that can lead to a number of health complications, including seizures and loss of consciousness.
With most types of insulin pumps, a blood glucose meter or continuous glucose monitoring device may be wirelessly connected to the insulin pump. Blood glucose meters measure blood sugar through a drop of blood drawn from the fingertip. Continuous glucose monitors are administered under the skin to monitor blood sugar throughout the day and night.
Patients will need both an insulin pump and blood sugar monitoring device to manage their condition.
Insulin pumps can be more complex than injections. The technical configuration of insulin pumps can prove challenging for some people. Setting the device up, learning how to personalize the doses and frequency of doses and navigating the system regularly can present a considerable learning curve.
Patients will also have to make the adjustment to wearing the pump and device. Sleeping, exercising and wearing the pump day-to-day will require some adjustment to see what works best for you.
<h3> Insulin pumps can be costly. Most insurance companies will help cover the cost of an insulin pump, but they have strict guidelines that you must abide by before they pay out (Cigna.)
Is an insulin pump right for you?
The best person to determine whether an insulin pump is right for you and your needs is a healthcare provider. We encourage you to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced endocrinologists. We’ll discuss the advantages of insulin pump use as well as the disadvantages.
Dr. Amita Kathuria specializes in diabetes treatment and management and is eager to help people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes use technology to improve their blood sugar control and overall wellness!
Dr. Kathuria previously completed a fellowship in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. She is a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the Endocrine Society and has received numerous awards for excellence in teaching and scientific research.
Dr. Ali Rizvi also specializes in diabetes diagnosis, treatment and management with a particular interest in the optimal management of diabetes (type 1 and type 2) and its unique complications.
Dr. Rizvi also completed his fellowship in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at Stanford University. He has received several research grants, authored more than 150 peer-reviewed publications and volunteers extensively in the community.
Our leading endocrinologists in Orlando have the skill and experience you need to properly manage type 1 or type 2 diabetes. At UCF Health, our healthcare providers are known for their caring and compassionate approach with a special focus on healthy lifestyle.
We will create a comprehensive treatment plan that aims to minimize further risk factors, treat or manage symptoms and help regulate your blood sugar.
Diabetes is a serious disease, and managing this condition requires professional help. When diabetes goes untreated or blood sugar and insulin are not regulated, this can be fatal. If you have a family history of diabetes or are at risk, it’s important to know the skin signs of diabetes and indicators of untreated diabetes.
We’ll help you stay informed on your overall health, provide you with the knowledge you need to minimize risk factors or triggers and explore your treatment options to help you determine the right treatment for you.
“Diabetes: Should I Get an Insulin Pump?” Cigna, https://www.cigna.com/individuals-families/health-wellness/hw/medical-topics/diabetes-zx1815.
Understanding Insulin Pump Settings – Diatribe. https://diatribe.org/understanding-insulin-pump-settings.
Insulin Injection pro Tips – Diabetes Educator. https://www.diabeteseducator.org/docs/default-source/living-with-diabetes/tip-sheets/insulin-injections/insulin_injection_pro_tips_aade.pdf?sfvrsn=6.
Insulin Pump Overview – EndocrineWeb. https://www.endocrineweb.com/guides/insulin/insulin-pump-overview.