Insulin Pumps: How They Work and Who Should Use Them
Living with diabetes is challenging. However, thanks to continuous advancements in how well we understand and treat the disease, today there are far more options available when it comes to managing your diabetes health. One of these advancements is the introduction of the insulin pump, a delivery system that replaces the need for daily insulin injections by syringe or insulin pen.
What is an Insulin Pump?
An insulin pump is a digital device designed to essentially mimic the way your body would naturally release insulin - a consistent “basal” release throughout the day and night and a sudden burst or “bolus” release at mealtimes in order to compensate for the extra blood sugar produced after eating. The difference is, unlike the body’s natural insulin regulation, an insulin pump needs to be carefully programmed for both basal and bolus doses, which of course vary depending on your type of diabetes and specific insulin requirements.
How does an Insulin Pump deliver medication?
Most standard insulin pumps are about the size of a smartphone or a deck of playing cards. Whichever model you prefer, the pump will be attached to you, and you’ll have to carry it with you everywhere you go, whether than means clipping it onto a belt, slipping it into your pocket, or attaching it to clothing in some other way. A cartridge filled with insulin, based on the prescription provided by your physician, is placed inside the pump which is pre-programed to deliver the proper dosage throughout the day.
Insulin is delivered from the pump using what’s called an infusion set. This set includes a plastic tube, and a soft, flexible needle called a canula. The plastic tube is attached to the pump on one end and to the canula on the other. The canula is inserted into the body just under the skin. The spot where it is inserted is known as the infusion site. This is most often on the abdomen but, occasionally, the buttock or thigh is used. Once inserted, the canula is held in place using an adhesive and must be replaced every two to three days.
Once everything is properly set up and programmed, the pump automatically delivers the right amount of insulin, which means no more daily syringe or pen needle injections.
New “Patch Pumps” are changing the game
In recent years, a new generation of insulin pumps have hit the market led by companies like OmniPod. Commonly referred to as “patch pumps” these new devices are making insulin pumps an even more attractive choice for many with diabetes. Patch pumps integrate the pump and the infusion set into a single small unit that is waterproof and worn on the body at the infusion site. The unit is controlled by a hand-held tool that when kept nearby or in a pocket will control insulin release. In other words, there are no external tubes to connect or cumbersome pumps to strap onto your belt or carry in your pocket. Beyond convenience, this new design also minimizes the risk of tubes becoming kinked or tangled, which can lead to dangerous disruptions in insulin delivery.
What are the advantages of an insulin pump?
People switch to an insulin pump primarily for three big reasons – confidence, convenience, and, most importantly, blood sugar control. With a pump you no longer have to worry about daily insulin injections using a syringe or pen needle and that’s a big benefit for many people. Additionally, your pump automatically releases the proper amount of insulin all day long, so you aren’t tasked with measuring individual dosages, which usually adds up to greater control over your blood sugar. Beyond better blood sugar management, insulin pumps provide you with a little more freedom and fewer disruptions than traditional syringes. You’ll never have to stop what you’re doing to give yourself an injection in the middle of the day or when you’re hanging out with friends. This also adds a bit of privacy and discretion many individuals appreciate. So, as a brief recap, the advantages of an insulin pump include:
– More consistent blood sugar management
– No daily insulin injections
– Added flexibility and discretion which suits many people
– Ease of use with pre-programmed and more precise insulin delivery
What are the drawbacks of switching to an insulin pump?
While the thought of an insulin pump might initially sound like a no-brainer, there are some disadvantages to using one. For starters, there’s getting up to speed. You will probably need to spend at least a day with your caregivers learning how to set up your new pump and insert the cannulas properly in order to use the pump safely.
Additionally, pumps don’t eliminate the need to test your blood sugar. In fact, they require you to test even more often. Here’s why. There’s always a chance that a pump might malfunction, or a tube could become tangled or twisted. This usually happens without the user realizing it. When it does, the right dosage of insulin doesn’t reach the bloodstream, which, of course, causes blood glucose to build up in the body. If not caught, you risk serious complications including ketoacidosis. Testing your blood sugar is the best way to identify a potential pump issue or malfunction. This is why many doctors recommend continuous glucose monitoring systems (CGM) for those who use insulin pumps. It eliminates the need for the many finger pricks that would be required using test strips and glucose meters.
Another drawback for many people is that pumps and infusion sets can get pretty darn expensive. Insurance will often help foot the bill, however, if you have a large deductible, you might end up paying a lot more to use a pump than you would administering insulin with a syringe or pen needle.
Finally, some people just don’t like carrying around a device that is attached to their body all of the time. So, the disadvantages of pumps include:
– Set up and learning curve
– Additional blood sugar testing required
– Danger of tubes tangling or device malfunctioning
– Cost considerations
– Extra piece of hardware attached to your body
Who are the best candidates for insulin pumps?
For most people living with diabetes whether to use an insulin pump, syringe, or pen needle really comes down to personal preference – which one fits your lifestyle and diabetes needs the best. However, there are some specific reasons your diabetes physician might recommend switching to an insulin pump.
- Large swings in blood sugar level
If you’re having difficulty maintaining blood sugar in your target range, an insulin pump can help you better manage those big fluctuations.
- You’re caring for a child who has diabetes
Pumps can be great for kids who tend to have a difficult time sticking to a regimen. Plus, fewer injections are always a big plus for little ones.
- Your job or lifestyle makes regular injections difficult
Maybe you’re a teacher who doesn’t want to disrupt class. Or maybe you have a different job or life situation that doesn’t allow you the freedom to give yourself an injection anytime you need it. A pump can be a big help.
- You trend toward low blood sugar
Some people have a hard time finding an insulin dose that controls blood sugar without also causing unhealthy lows. Often, this issue is managed more effectively with an insulin pump.
- You require frequent insulin injections
If you require numerous treatments each day, an insulin pump can make life a whole lot easier by providing continuous insulin delivery without the need for all those injections.
The insulin pump has proven to be a great innovation for those living with diabetes. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for everyone. If you think you might be a good candidate, talk to your diabetes physician. You’ll need a prescription to get an insulin pump anyway, so the first step is to sit down with your doctor to discuss your options and decide which system (if any) is right for you.
Visit us online to shop for insulin pumps and infusion sets, glucose meters, test strips, lancets, insulin syringes, pen needles, continuous glucose monitoring systems (CGM), ketone test strips, blood pressure monitors, and much more. Enjoy free delivery to your home or office with every order. Hear what our satisfied customers have to say and get started saving on all your diabetic supplies now at Diabetic Warehouse.
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