What is an insulin pump?
An insulin pump is a device that delivers insulin in lieu of insulin injections. It’s an electronic device, much like a portable IV that automatically administers insulin throughout the day. You can program it to give bolus and basal insulin. Insulin pumps are meant to mimic how a body would normally release insulin to convert glucose into energy.
The pump is about the size of a smartphone, and delivers insulin via a tube and cannula inserted into your skin. Before using the pump, get training from your doctor on how to correctly use it. Your diabetes care team can help you choose a pump that will deliver the right doses based on your sensitivity to insulin.
Who are pumps for?
People with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can use an insulin pump, but they’re more commonly used to manage type 1. Pumps might be more appealing to people who like the ease of having insulin automatically injected. In addition, if you are a person who likes to be active and exercise a lot, a pump would be great for you. Another reason a pump might be helpful is if you have experienced frequent hypos in the past and want to be sure you have the correct amount of insulin at all times.
Other good candidates for insulin pumps are people with gastroparesis (slow emptying of the stomach), diabetic women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, and people who want to use the technology of the pump’s bolus calculator.
Now, insulin pumps can be calibrated with continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) to ensure that the right dose is being given based on your blood sugar levels.
What are the different kinds of pumps?
There are two main kinds of pumps: traditional pumps and patch pumps.
Traditional pumps are devices worn outside your body which connect with tubing and an infusion set.
Patch pumps are smaller and stick directly to the body. They work the same way except they are controlled by a wireless device that programs insulin delivery.
Pumps have different features, such as being waterproof, having a touch screen, and alarms. Different pumps also hold different amounts of insulin. Some can integrate with a CGM, and can stop insulin delivery during a low. Research the different pumps to see which one might be best for you.
How to get help with costs
An insulin pump can cost between $4,500 and $6,500. Talk with your doctor and insurance company about what is covered for you. Many, but not all, insurance providers will cover an insulin pump. If covered by insurance, most providers will only cover a new pump once every four years.
Find out about getting help with the costs of diabetes care at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease website.
Making the choice
Even though insulin pumps can make diabetes easier, they do not eliminate the need for checking blood glucose four or more times a day and taking mealtime insulin.
If you decide to go with a pump, you’ll need to learn how to use it safely. It might hurt at first, but will get easier over time. You can conceal your pump or wear it around your waist like a fanny pack. If you ever experience complications with your pump, you can always switch back to injections. Most pumps will allow you to return them within 30 days the pump doesn’t work right for you.