A diabetes insulin pump is an electronic device that is carried in the pocket or on the belt of a diabetic. The pump’s job is to closely mimic how a normal, healthy pancreas acts. This replaces the need for insulin injections by delivering insulin into the diabetics body 24 hours a day.
Insulin pumps are mainly used by people with type 1 diabetes, although some type 2 diabetics also use an insulin pump as well. A diabetes insulin pump is not cheap but it may be the best way to manage someone’s diabetes.
How do diabetes insulin pumps work?
The insulin pump is attached to a computer which is the size of a small cell phone. It has a screen and buttons that can be programmed and updated with information when necessary. At least twice a week a plastic tube called a cannula is inserted just under the skin using an infusion set. The pump is usually inserted into the abdomen, hip, buttock or thigh.
Insulin pumps deliver short acting insulin through a small tube (called a catheter) placed under the skin, 24 hours a day. This keeps your blood sugar levels in your desired range, in between meals and overnight. This is insulin release is called basal insulin. When you eat food you can program your pump to inject different amounts of insulin called bolus insulin. You do this once you calculate how many grams of carbs/ sugar you have consumed.
The difference between basal insulin and bolus insulin
Basal insulin is delivered continuously over a 24 period. It keeps blood glucose levels in a tight range in between meals and overnight. It is akin to the slower acting, slower release insulin that some diabetics inject overnight while they sleep. It is quite simple to program different amounts of insulin at different times of the day or night.
When you eat you need to program the pump to give additional insulin called a bolus insulin. This is like the regular fast-acting insulin that you would inject yourself with during the day.
Research has returned some mixed data as to whether insulin pumps improve the overall blood sugar control of diabetics around the world.
There are many pumps worn by many diabetics
There are many diabetes insulin pumps available on the market. Most of them are quite expensive. Many (but not all) of the pumps double as insulin meters as well which display a continuous reading of blood sugar levels.
There are hundreds of thousands of diabetics worldwide who wear an insulin pump. They maybe more popular with children with diabetes more effectively manage their blood sugar level and to take some of the calculating insulin requirements out of their young hands. It may allow for tighter blood sugar control and lessen the chance of hypoglycaemia.
Arguably the most exciting innovation when it comes to pump technology if for it to contain bloody sugar sensing technology. This means that the pump acts if and when bloody sugar levels require it.This technology is called an artificial pancreas. You can read about artificial pancreases here.
The benefits of using a diabetes insulin pump
- Better blood sugar control
- Fewer reported hypoglycemic events
- Better management of blood sugar levels especially overnight.
Cons of using a diabetes insulin pump
- Debatable as to whether they improve overall blood sugar levels
- Some devices still require blood sugar levels to be tested
- The pump can be seen hanging off your belt
- Requires maintenance every 2 or 3 days.
- In some cases a diabetes insulin pump does not replace the need to check your blood sugar levels
Costs of an insulin pump
The cost of an insulin pump depends on many factors including your level of health cover and the part of the world in which you reside. To buy one outright without any insurance assistance can cost anywhere between $4,000 to $10,000. There are approximately $30-$80 per month in ongoing costs, such as new cartridges etc.
For young children I can see how a diabetic insulin pump would make a lot of sense. There has been many reported cases of children dying due to insulin shock. Taking as much of the decision making out of their young hands may make sense until they are old enough to do it themselves.
The artificial pancreas is an exciting piece of technology which may make wearing a pump more desirable in the future. Until then the cost seems to be very high and the results are still disputed in medical circles. It does appear to help managing hypoglycemia which is a big bonus. I guess the final decision is up to the individual.
Please see some other articles about exciting technology coming soon in the world of diabetes.
Insulin implant trials – these are implaned just under the skin and have healthy stem cells contained in them
The new blood sugar patch – a new bloody sugar monitoring device that you wear 24 hours a day
A diabetes bacteria-killing protein – which may hold keys to curing the disease in future
If you wear or own an insulin pump please let me know by reaching out below.