Insulin pump therapy has changed the way people with type 1 manage their diabetes. When you have type 1 your body does not make enough insulin to process the glucose (sugar) it gets from the food you eat. That means you need to take one or more types of manufactured insulin to keep your body working healthily. But, there are only two approved ways to get that insulin -- by manually injecting it with a syringe or by using an insulin pump.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about insulin pump therapy.
What Is an Insulin Pump?
An insulin pump is a programmable device that holds an insulin cartridge and delivers a continuous flow (basal rate) of insulin to the body. The pump sends out fast-acting insulin through a short tube with a needle (cannula) at the endpoint that is inserted under the skin, usually in the abdomen. This tubing and cannula are collectively referred to as an infusion set. The cannula and insertion site are changed every two or three days to prevent infection. Newer technology is now available that eliminates the tubing and attaches the pump directly to the skin.
Can You Program the Pump to Fit Your Lifestyle?
Insulin pumps can be programmed to deliver a variety of basal rates to fit your lifestyle. You can increase the basal rate to get more insulin if you know that you will be sedentary, or lower the rate if you will be active. Insulin can also be manually delivered from the pump in larger amounts (bolus doses) to cover meals or when additional insulin is needed. Insulin pumps are about the size of a small cell phone, run on batteries and can be discretely clipped on to a belt or worn under clothing or carried in a pocket. They can be worn in most any activity, including sport competition (excluding contact sports). When necessary, you can disconnect the pump for short periods of time.
Are Insulin Pumps More Effective Than Injections at Controlling Blood Sugar?
Many studies have shown improved glucose management outcomes for those using insulin pumps. A pump does allow for more flexibility in lifestyle and the potential to even out the wide blood sugar fluctuations that are often experienced when injecting insulin. But, using an insulin pump does not eliminate the need to be actively involved in managing your diabetes. In fact, many diabetes professionals believe that using an insulin pump requires a greater degree of involvement to manage blood glucose levels.
What Knowledge Must You Have to Use a Pump?
Though some people believe anything that involves advanced technology is too complicated to use, this is not the case with insulin pumps. In fact, many children and teens learn to program and maintain their own insulin pumps with assistance from their parents. Your diabetes healthcare team will provide in-depth training on proper use of the pump and how to troubleshoot any problems that might arise.
Are Insulin Pumps Safe?
Most pumps have alarms that sound to alert you to possible problems such as a blocked tube, or when you accidentally press the wrong button. Pumps are also durable and built to withstand the normal bumps and mishaps of life. Most are water resistant and a few models are designed to be waterproof, which allows you to swim or shower with the pump connected.
Can You Wear a Pump While You Sleep?
This is probably the most frequently asked question about pump use. Though it may take a few nights to find the best sleeping set-up for you, most pump users forget they are hooked up as they sleep. It can be as easy as placing the pump under your pillow or attaching it to the headboard of your bed. Another advantage of using the pump at night is the decreased risk of having a low blood sugar reaction while you sleep.
Do You Still Need to Test Your Blood Sugar When Using a Pump?
It’s still necessary to test your blood sugar when using a pump. Most people test their blood several times a day, especially at meal times and when they are more active than usual, in order to effectively manage their glucose levels. New technology is currently in development that will eventually allow insulin pumps to also read blood glucose levels and automatically dispense the proper amount of insulin. This would become the equivalent of an artificial pancreas. But this technology is still years from being available to those with diabetes.
Insulin Pumps. American Diabetes Association. Retrieved November 16, 2008.
Insulin Pumps. American Diabetes Association. Retrieved November 16, 2008. http://www.diabetes.org/type-1-diabetes/insulin-pumps.jsp .