All About Insulin Pumps

Keeping a person living with diabetes in check with their blood sugar levels is essential for their wellbeing. Moreover, maintaining an optimal level of blood sugar in the body ascertains that a patient feels good and prevents complications, such as heart disease, kidney failure, or blindness. 

Man preparing insulin diabetic syringe for injection Free Photo

A key hormone in the body for blood sugar maintenance is insulin, which helps regulate glucose coming from what we eat. People with type 1 diabetes do not produce insulin and will have to undergo insulin therapy. On the other hand, People with type 2 diabetes can produce insulin, but their body has developed a resistance to insulin, or they don’t produce enough of it. Some of them may be able to control their glucose levels by changing their lifestyle. However, there are also those who may need insulin therapy. 

Closeup of syringe

Syringes or insulin pens are the most common method used for insulin therapy because of cost-efficiency. Some other people who live with diabetes who might have more money to spend and are tired of injecting multiple times a day, an insulin pump can be a valid option. 

What is an Insulin Pump and How Does It Work?

An insulin pump is a small, digital device that mimics the pancreas (although there is still a need to monitor blood sugar levels) by delivering insulin in two ways:

  • Basal: a small, steady dose of short-acting insulin
  • Bolus: a variable surge dose of insulin around mealtime

The insulin rates for both basal and bolus are set up in the pump with the diabetes care team according to the person’s needs. There can be multiple basal settings programmed in the pump, and most of these come with a built-in bolus calculator to help determine the amount of insulin needed when a meal is eaten based on current glucose levels and carbohydrate intake.

Assortment of simple carbohydrates food on light table Free Photo

There are many pumps available in the market with varying features to address the needs of the patient, including, but not limited to, a programmable bolus, customizable reminders, missed dosing alerts, and alarms if a blockage prevents the continuous infusion of insulin through the pump. Many of these also connect wirelessly to blood glucose meters, which measure blood sugar levels via a drop of blood from the fingertip. 

What Are the Types of Insulin Pumps?

As stated above, a variety of insulin pumps are available in the market, and you and the rest of the care team can help choose the best pump for the patient. Generally, there are two types of pump devices:

  • Traditional Insulin Pumps: This pump body will contain buttons allowing insulin delivery programming for meals, basal rates, or suspending insulin infusion if needed. These pumps are battery powered and contain three main parts: Pump and Insulin Reservoir: The pump sends the insulin from the reservoir (container) through the tubing into an infusion set that delivers insulin to the body. Tubing: A thin plastic tube, or catheter, is used to connect the insulin reservoir so that the insulin can flow into the subcutaneous tissue via the infusion set. There are several tube lengths available, depending on how the patient wants to wear the insulin pump.
  • Infusion Set: Infusions sets are made of steel or Teflon which attaches to the skin via an adhesive patch. Underneath it, a cannula (short thin tube) is inserted into the skin with a small needle to deliver insulin into the subcutaneous, or fatty, tissue. After insertion, the needle is removed and the cannula will stay underneath the skin. The most common area for insertion is around the stomach area. However, they can also be placed on the thighs, hips, arms, or buttocks. Infusion sets may also vary depending on a person’s lifestyle: Angled:  Inserted at a 30- to a 45-degree angle to the skin, these generally have longer cannulas and allow the person to see the cannula at the insertion site and monitor for any signs of redness or potential infections. These are preferred by athletes, muscular people, pregnant women, and active children. Straight: Inserted at a 90-degree angle to the skin, these have shorter needles for insertion in the arms or buttocks. These may also be ideal for those who are afraid of needles because this set has a variant the hides the needle. 
  • Insulin Patch Pumps: This pump is controlled wirelessly through another device which allows programming of insulin delivery from the patch for meals. All the parts of the patch pump are contained in one case without tubing, unlike traditional insulin pumps. These are usually replaced every three days. 
  • Cannula: This is inserted automatically after attaching the patch on the skin by programming the activation of the patch from the device.
  • Nurse applying an iv drip to a patient Free Photo

    Who Should Consider Using a Pump?

    All age groups have seen successful usage of the insulin pump. The choice of using one is that of the person living with diabetes. It can be a preference at one point in time because of convenience or ease of use. Some people can go on and off pumps depending on their situation (caveat: they do it with the supervision of their diabetes care team).

    It’s important to look into the needs of the patient and see if the insulin pump is advisable for their situation. Once it’s agreed by the care team for the patient to look into insulin pumps, it is essential to look up which device will be the best for their context.

    DiabetesInformativeInsulin pump