Insulin pumps have been around for a long time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re all experts. If you’re new to diabetes, considering using a pump, or just curious about how they work, you’ve come to the right place!
Pumps offer huge convenience, but there are some trade-offs involved. Here we’ll go over the basics of how insulin pumps work, how to live with one, and the pros and cons of using one. Let’s get started!
Insulin Pumps: The Concept
The beauty of the insulin pump is that is frees someone with insulin-dependent diabetes from having to inject insulin with a needle. It’s a small device, a little bigger than a deck of cards, worn clipped to someone’s clothing or attached with a band (see here for other tips on how to wear an insulin pump). The device delivers insulin via a tube that enters the body at an infusion site.
The pump delivers basal insulin at regular intervals throughout the day, and these amounts are programmable based on your lifestyle. It also delivers bolus insulin at mealtimes to cover consumed carbohydrates; those bolus amounts are programmed by the wearer. An insulin pump is not an artificial pancreas because it does not measure blood glucose. However, there are continuous glucose monitoring systems that can integrate with pumps and create a closed-loop insulin delivery system.
Life With An Insulin Pump
Most people who use insulin pumps appreciate the ability to be more flexible with their diets and say goodbye to individual injections (except perhaps on certain occasions). But it does take some getting used to!
The pump’s injection site is usually placed on the abdomen, thighs, back, buttocks, or even the upper arms. Placing the pump and dealing with any excess tubing can be the bigger challenge. The pump can be clipped to clothing, held by a fabric band, or carried in a case. Sleeping and working out can be tougher. Check out these tips for wearing a pump with different outfits.
Pumps are water resistant, but they shouldn’t be submerged. The pump can be disconnected from the insertion site while you shower and placed outside the shower or in a case. You can even use a case that will hang from a shower curtain rod.
Pros of a Pump
The best things about the pump are that you can program basal and bolus insulin rather than injecting with a needle, and you can bolus based on what you eat when you eat it. Here are some other major pros:
- Insulin delivery is more accurate than delivery via injections
- Using a pump can improve A1C
- Pumps generally provide more steady glucose levels throughout the day
- Greater flexibility around mealtimes
- Insulin behavior is more predictable than when using fast- or slow-acting insulin
- Pumps allow a person to exercise without consuming lots of carbohydrates
People love their pumps, but it’s not all peaches and cream. Here are a few drawbacks of using a pump:
- If the catheter comes out without your knowledge, lack of insulin could cause ketoacidosis
- Because using a pump makes carbohydrate consumption easier, using one may cause weight gain
- The price! Depending on your insurance coverage, a pump and its maintenance could be expensive
- The pump needs to be almost constantly on your person
- Learning to use the pump requires training
- Insertion sites need to be rotated every 24 to 72 hours, and each new insertion site should be two inches away from the last one
Insulin pumps are not a set-it-and-forget-it diabetes management solution. Boluses still need to be programmed, glucose still needs to be checked, and the pump itself needs maintenance. But many people love their pumps for the convenience and more stable blood sugars they provide. In one case, an insulin pump even helped someone escape from a kidnapper! (See below.)
If you’re considering an insulin pump, talk to your medical team about whether or not the pump life is for you. Stay healthy, friends!
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.