What is an insulin pump?
An insulin pump
constantly gives you a small amount (basal rate) of insulin throughout the day
and night to help control your blood sugar. You will tell the pump to give you
small doses of rapid-acting insulin when you need extra insulin to cover a meal
or to correct high blood sugar.
You wear the
insulin pump , which is about the size of a deck of cards, clipped to a belt or
somewhere in your clothing. Plastic tubing connects the pump to a catheter just
under your skin. The catheter is a tiny plastic tube that you insert into your
skin using a special needle. You have to change the catheter every 2 or 3
A pump does not work by itself. You have to program it. It
will not measure your sugar levels, so you will still have to do that. It will
not deliver extra rapid-acting insulin unless you tell it to. For example, if
you figure out that you need an extra 5 units of insulin to cover a meal, you
have to punch in that number on the pump.
You can disconnect the
pump from the catheter site for brief periods when you want to go swimming or
take a shower.
What are the benefits of using an insulin pump?
- With daily injections, you have to plan your
life around your insulin needs. With a pump, you can plan your insulin around
your life instead. Your basal rate is set and runs automatically. If you decide
to stay out late, skip a meal, or work at a job with changing shifts, you can
adjust your insulin at the push of a button.
- Instead of giving
yourself shots several times a day, you only need to insert a catheter needle
once every 2 or 3 days.
- With a pump, you don't have to stop what
you're doing and pull out a syringe or an insulin pen to give yourself insulin.
You just push a button to give yourself the right dose.
- A pump may
help you keep your blood sugar closer to normal. People who use a pump have
fewer big swings in their blood sugar levels.
- People who use a pump
have fewer problems with very low blood sugar.
What are the drawbacks of using an insulin pump?
- It can take a lot of time to get started.
Setting your basal rates may take a few days. You may have to skip a few meals
and check your sugar levels extra often while you get used to the
- People with diabetes who keep their sugar levels in a tight
range may be less able to sense when their blood sugar is low. You will need to
check your blood sugar often, at least 4 times a day, when you use an insulin
- Your blood sugar could get too high if something goes wrong
with the catheter or pump without your noticing. If you go without insulin for
several hours, you could get
diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a life-threatening
condition. DKA may happen more often and more quickly with an insulin pump than
with injections.1 Most studies show that this is
usually not a problem with training and practice.2
- If you are not good at counting your carbohydrate
grams, an insulin pump may not help you control your diabetes.
area where the catheter goes into your skin can get infected, so it's important
to take good care of the site and change the catheter on schedule. Infection at
the catheter site is the most common problem with insulin pumps. It is one of
the most common reasons why people stop using pumps.3
- An insulin pump stays attached to you 24 hours a
- A pump has an alarm system to tell you when something is wrong
with insulin delivery or if the pump's battery is getting low. The alarm system
will not tell you if the catheter is bent or has pulled
out, so it's important to check the site often.
- Insulin pumps cost
as much as $6,000. Many insurance companies cover insulin pumps but they have
strict guidelines that you will have to follow before they will pay.
Who is most likely to be successful using an insulin pump?
Insulin pumps are not for everyone. The most important part
of an insulin pump is the person using it. To be successful, you will need to
be motivated and committed to controlling your blood sugar, including pricking
your finger for testing 4 or more times a day. And you have to be ready to get
the training you need to work the pump.
You also must be willing
to do a detailed job of carbohydrate counting every day. Knowing exactly how
many carbs you have eaten will help you do a better job of telling your pump
how much insulin you need. People who need more than 100 units of insulin each
day may not be good candidates for a pump.
If you need more information, see the topic
Type 1 Diabetes: Living With the Disease.