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A guide to insulin pumps

Learn how insulin pumps work and the advantages and disadvantages of using one.

If you have diabetes, controlling your blood sugar is extremely important. You may be able to use an insulin pump to help make that task easier and more convenient.

What is an insulin pump?

An insulin pump is a pager-sized device that you wear on your body. Pumps can be used by people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

Insulin pumps deliver rapid- or short-acting insulin 24 hours a day through a catheter placed under the skin. According to the ADA, insulin doses are separated into:

Basal rates. Basal insulin is delivered continuously over 24 hours to keep your blood sugar levels in check between meals and overnight. You may program different amounts of insulin to be delivered at different times of the day and night.

Bolus doses. When you eat, you use the buttons on the pump to give additional insulin, called a bolus, to cover the carbohydrates you've consumed. If you eat more than you planned, you can program a larger bolus of insulin to cover it.

Wearing a pump

Insulin pumps are designed to be portable. You can carry your pump using a pump case, or you can attach the pump to your waistband, pocket, sock or undergarments.

You can wear your pump while exercising and playing sports.

Pump pros and cons

According to the ADA and UpToDate, advantages of using an insulin pump may include:

  • Not having to give yourself insulin injections.
  • A more accurate delivery of insulin.
  • Improved blood sugar control, with fewer large swings in blood sugar levels.
  • Easier management of diabetes.
  • More flexibility about when and what you eat.
  • An improved quality of life.
  • Fewer severe low blood sugar episodes.

Disadvantages of using an insulin pump may include:

  • Weight gain, because what, when and how much you eat is up to you. Talk to a healthcare provider about strategies to avoid weight gain when you start using an insulin pump.
  • Development of serious complications—such as diabetic ketoacidosis—if your pump stops working properly.
  • Annoyance. Wearing a pump can be bothersome, since you are attached to it most of the time.
  • You will need to spend time learning how to use the pump.
  • Pumps can be expensive.

Learn more

Your healthcare provider can tell you more about how insulin pumps work and whether using one might be a good idea for you.

reviewed 8/16/2019

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