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Insulin Pump for Diabetics: Treating Diabetes Made Easier

Updated on August 12, 2013

Treating Diabetes with Insulin

Do you or a loved one have diabetes? Did the doctor prescribe insulin to help lower blood sugar levels?

Diabetes is on the rise and many people are diagnosed with the disease each day. There are two variations, which present in a similar manner but arise from different causes. Type 2 diabetes is the most prevalent. Generally speaking, a person's body does not make sufficient insulin, which is a hormone that "unlocks" cells so that glucose in the bloodstream can be used for energy. Extra blood sugar builds up, and the patient loses weight as the energy from food they have eaten is flushed from the body. This is why diabetics feel so thirsty! There are many reasons the disease may develop, including heredity, smoking and carrying extra weight.

With Type 1 diabetes, an auto-immune reaction kills the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. The symptoms of diabetes are the same, but the cause is very different. Unlike Type 2 diabetics, those with Type 1 have not made lifestyle choices that increase the risk of the disease. Type 1 diabetics are insulin-dependent, meaning they must take insulin for the rest of their lives in order to survive, or until a diabetes cure is found.

In either event, when insulin is required to treat diabetes, it used to mean needles, syringes and shots. Today, an insulin pump for diabetics can significantly reduce the pain of living with diabetes and make it more convenient to eat and drink without having to pull out a needle every time.

Insulin pumps can help you avoid shots
Insulin pumps can help you avoid shots | Source

Insulin Pumps Provide More Precise Control of Diabetes

Insulin is a powerful hormone. Anyone taking it must be very careful to avoid "over-medicating" which can result in seriously low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Using an insulin pump is a much more precise method of administering the medication.

I have been living with Type 1 diabetes for almost 9 years. When I was first diagnosed, my doctor prescribed two types of insulin - long-acting and fast-acting. Long-acting insulin covers a person's basal, or baseline needs. Throughout the day, our pancreas and liver secrete stored blood sugar for energy during the times we are not eating. Insulin is required so that we can tap into that energy, and to avoid rising blood sugar levels. The amount of long-acting insulin you need is generally the same from day to day, but may be increase during illness or decrease during extended periods of physical activity.

Fast-acting insulin covers the food and drink that we ingest. Diabetics have to count grams of carbohydrates (not just sugar) and use an insulin ratio at mealtime. My ratio is 1 unit of insulin for 15 grams of carbohydrates.

Using an insulin pump provides more precise control of diabetes for several reasons. First, the pump can be turned off when basal insulin is not required, like when I go running. Second, you can take increments of units of insulin in tenths. So, when I eat something with 24 grams of carbs, I can give myself a bolus (or shot) of exactly 1.5 units, rather than eyeballing the lines on a syringe, wondering if I have enough or too much.

Insulin pump supplies
Insulin pump supplies | Source

Insulin Pumps are Mini Computers

Insulin pumps resemble and act like mini computers. They store information on the last time you took a bolus, and the amount of insulin. Daily insulin totals are also stored. Because basal insulin requirements can change over 24 hours, you can program rates to go up or down at certain times of the day.

My Medtronic Minimed insulin pump has a wireless transmittal feature, as well. When I test my blood sugar with my meter, the information is wirelessly transmitted to my pump. I can then use the "Bolus Wizard" to calculate whether or not I need to take a bolus based on my blood sugar level and the last time I took a bolus. My insulin pump keeps track of "active" insulin following a bolus. If your blood sugar appears to be high, but you ate only 45 minutes ago, the pump may not suggest you take any additional insulin because the amount you took most recently will continue to lower your blood sugar over then next 1-2 hours.

You can program your insulin pump with date and time information, carbohydrate to insulin ratio, and the amount of insulin it requires to lower your blood sugar 100 points. In other words, it can be completely programmed to fit your specific needs. Change it when necessary if you lose or gain weight, are fighting an illness, or travel through time zones.

How to Attach an Insulin Pump

Medtronic minimed insulin pump
Medtronic minimed insulin pump | Source

How Does an Insulin Pump Work?

Instead of daily needles and multiple injections, an insulin pump works by moving insulin from a reservoir in the pump through tubing and into the patient via a port on their body. Any time you need additional insulin, you can take a bolus with your pump, in any incremental amount (from .1 units to 10 units). Otherwise, the insulin pump automatically gives small amounts of insulin based on a basal rate, every 15 minutes.

Every 2-3 days, you will need to change the "infusion site," which is the location of the port in order to prevent infection and keep the absorption of insulin consistent. The infusion site is prepared (usually on the belly) by cleaning the area, wiping it with IV prep solution and then inserting a special needle, subcutaneously, around which is a short tube. The needle is backed out of the skin and the tubing remains; insulin will flow from the pump via the infusion site into the body.

As discussed above, an insulin pump is a mini computer and keeps track of the last time you took a bolus. It can be programmed to vary basal rates over a 24-hour period, and can be shut off when insulin is not needed during physical activity.

Insulin pump infusion set
Insulin pump infusion set | Source

Young Children Can Use Insulin Pumps

Insulin set ready for use in a pump
Insulin set ready for use in a pump | Source

Pros and Cons of Insulin Pumps

easy to use
may eat/drink more because no need for shots
repeated use of infusion sites can result in tissue damage
may lead to better blood sugar control
potential risk of hypoglycemia
fewer shots
no real downside here!
less poking of skin
insulin pumps do not read blood sugar; use meters to test frequently

What Considerations for an Insulin Pump?

Before a switch to an insulin pump is made, you should consider the following:

  1. An insulin pump is worn 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can take it off for bathing or showering, but otherwise, its connected to you day or night. That means sleeping, bathing, and going to the pool.
  2. The freedom of a pump compared to needles may lead to people ingesting more carbohydrates than they ordinarily would. Watch to make sure that you do not unnecessarily gain weight.
  3. The convenience of insulin pumps makes it easier to manage Type 1 diabetes in young children. Other people may be more apt to take insulin injections without having to pull out a needle.
  4. The cost of insulin pumps and especially supplies can be significant. A pump is about $5000 (as of the date of this posting) and supplies run about $100 per month. Check with your insurance company, if any, to determine the out-of-pocket expenses.
  5. Use of insulin pumps has been proven to reduce overall blood sugar levels and A1C readings. More precise control may be the ticket to better health.

Pros and Cons of Insulin Pump Use

© 2011 Stephanie Hicks


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    • Shakeel Hussain profile image

      Shakeel Hussain 3 years ago

      Hi, this is a great hub. I haven't heard a lot about insulin pumps, most diabetics I know are on insulin injections. Are they available in the UK? I noticed the price given was in dollars.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Oh my gosh, Babs!! I am so sorry to hear about your daughter. I have a cousin with Type 1 who had many close calls throughout high school. Ambulances, etc. He wasn't on the pump either, but now he is.

      When I was diagnosed, I was 33 years old. I didn't know that people that age could get the disease. I have said all along that I am glad its me and not one of my kids, but we are watching them all carefully for any signs.

      Hugs to you, Steph

    • Type 1 Diabetes profile image

      Type 1 Diabetes 5 years ago from Cheshire

      Hi Steph

      I have Type 1 Diabetes too. I have been living with it for 39 years so I remember the pain of the Consultants having little knowledge as well as us, the patients. I think we knew more actually. My sister and brother are both Type 1 and so was my Nana. My Auntie and her granddaughter are Type 1. It is all on my mum's side of the family and definitely hereditary in our case.

      The biggest blow of all was when my own daughter was diagnosed at 7 years old. It was the end of the world for me. I got used to it and then lost her in her sleep when she was 12 years old. She had an insulin pump but was having a break from it when she died (she had chosen to go back onto injections for a little while) and I also wear an insulin pump. Life is so much easier with a pump. I can remember my daughter saying, when she was fitted with her pump, "I don't feel diabetic anymore".


    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you so much Prasetio! I hope the information on insulin pumps help many suffering from the disease and puts their friends and family at ease. best to you, Stephanie

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Dear friend, Stephanie. You have valuable information here. You open my eyes widely about insulin pump for diabetics. I learn much from you and I'll share this with others. Stumble, twit and digg. Vote up! Thank you very much.


    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Ardie,

      I hope that your stepdad gets the information he needs to discuss diabetes treatment options with his doctor. People suffering from Type 2 diabetes should not consider insulin as a "failure," but rather a way to help them extend the length of their life and improve its quality. Insulin pumps are widely considered to be the "gold standard" for treating patients that require insulin for diabetes. Best to you both, Steph

    • Ardie profile image

      Sondra 6 years ago from Neverland

      I really appreciate this information. My stepdad has had diabetes for almost 30 years. Just of late he has had a very difficult time regulating his blood sugar. I know someone with the pump and I wondered how to ask him about it to get more info for my stepdad. Im going to send him here :) Thanks!!!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Bob,

      Thanks. There are so many factors that affect blood sugar levels (illness, weight gain or loss, lack of sleep, stress, etc.) I think using an insulin pump is very convenient because you can easily adjust dosages and get a more precise delivery of insulin to match carb intake. Best to you and wishes for good health, Steph

    • Bob Ewing profile image

      Bob Ewing 6 years ago from New Brunswick

      Great hub, this is the information that people need. While I do not use the pump, I take insulin twice a day and it makes a very noticeable difference when the amount injected changes.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks ktrapp,

      My cousin's other grandmother had Type 1 diabetes years ago and testing blood sugar consisted only of using ketone strips in urine. The insulin pump has improved the lives of many diabetics. I hope that more strides toward effectively treating - and even preventing - the disease occur during our lifetimes. Best, Steph

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      Steph - You are so right, there is no substitute for a fully-functioning pancreas, but I am glad a lot of good strides have been taken to at least improve the monitoring and administration of insulin. I know when my uncle was a child (probably 60 years ago) his insulin regimen was basically a shot in his thigh once or twice a day.I will have to find out if any of my cousins are using this pump. Thanks again for the quality information.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Dexter, Glad to hear that this hub can hopefully help a friend. If they need more information on diabetes, please have them contact me through HP. Best to you, Steph

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi ktrapp, I have had Type 1 for 9 years and let me tell you, the scary moments continue. I am very grateful for the ability to give myself insulin shots on the fly, and to use a mini computer to keep track of my levels, but there is no substitute for an adequately functioning pancreas. You are right that pets may be inflicted with the disease which makes it even more difficult to monitor/treat since they cannot talk! Hopefully, one day there will be a cure, but until then, diabetes pumps are a good way to treat the disease. Best, Steph

    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 6 years ago from United States

      Hi Steph! This is not only very good information but timely. I am going to recommend this to a dear friend who will benefit from it. Thanks, Steph!

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      This is an amazing device for those living with diabetes. I have had several family members have or have passed away from complications from Type I diabetes. I almost think we hear about it so much these days since more and more people are diagnosed with Type II diabetes that the seriousness of the disease is lost.

      Being able to control insulin levels without all the peaks and valleys is a major plus. On a lesser note, I also had a cat with diabetes and regulating his blood sugar levels was near impossible to the point that he had a seizure from too much insulin. So, I can only imagine how grateful human diabetes patients are to have a device like this pump that can better help them control their insulin levels.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks Robie- I hope that diabetics and their friends/family can be helped with this guide. Appreciate the upvote! Best, Steph

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Excellent info for anyone who has diabetes or loves someone who does-- this is a wonderful reference-- voted up up up.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Rob, I hope that my living with diabetes can help others that are new to the disease or have questions about treatment options like the insulin pump. Best to you, Steph

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Nan, good luck and good health to you. I hope you have a great endocrinologist doctor to help with your diabetes. Best, STeph

    • Rob Jundt profile image

      Rob Jundt 6 years ago from Midwest USA


      You have written a very concise and valuable hub here. Either having diabetes, or living with someone with the disease can be trying at times, but with the pump (as we call it around our house) life is much more manageable. Thanks again for bringing awareness to this topic.

    • profile image

      Nan Mynatt 6 years ago

      Great hub, and right on time for all of us with type 1, or type 2. I have type 2 and I try not to think about what is happening to my body. It is a disease and being overweight has really caused it a few years ago. I marked you up on this one. My goal is losing weight.