What to Know About Insulin Pumps


The term medical device is one that’s broad. Medical devices include CPAP machines, body implants, stimulants, and insulin pumps. Among medical devices, insulin pumps are one of the most frequently used. 

The following is a guide to insulin pumps and how they work. 

An Overview

More people use insulin pumps when they have diabetes instead of doing daily shots. When you use an insulin pump as a way to control your diabetes, you have more freedom and flexibility in terms of eating, sleeping, and exercising. 

Pumps help prevent complications like extremely low blood sugar. 

These are small devices that deliver insulin at specific times. 

You don’t have to use a pump permanently, and you can change to another method of managing insulin any time you choose. 

These small computerized devices are around the size of a cell phone. There’s a pre-programmed schedule to deliver insulin doses. Insulin is the hormone that’s responsible for regulating your blood sugar. 

An insulin pump can be worn under your clothes, on your belt, or in your pocket. You can also wear it on your stomach or arm with an adhesive patch. 

Why Do People Use Insulin Pumps?

If you have diabetes, you don’t make enough insulin naturally. You may use insulin injections to manage blood sugar. 

A pump will provide a steady stream of insulin, so fewer needle sticks are needed. 

Insulin pumps can also be a good option for children or anyone who has a tough time remembering their injections. 

Other reasons someone might use an insulin pump include if they’re very active and want to pause doses when they exercise, are planning a pregnancy, or have delays in food absorption. Sometimes people with severe reactions to low blood sugar will also opt for an insulin pump. 

Diabetes MellitusPhoto credit: Dialysis Technician Salary – Source: Flickr Creative Commons

Comparing a Traditional Insulin Pump and Patch Pumps

A traditional insulin pump works by pushing the insulin from a chamber that’s in the pump through a tube that’s placed at a site on the skin. That site is connected to a cannula, which is a flexible plastic tube. The canula is a few millimeters in length and delivers insulin under the skin. 

An insulin patch pump uses a flexible plastic tube under the skin as well, but the delivery chamber for the insulin and the cannula are part of a single pod that sits directly on the skin with an adhesive patch. 

There’s no external tubing, and it’s controlled wirelessly with a handheld controller. 

The tubing and cannula have to be removed and replaced every few days. 

How Do Insulin Pumps Work?

An insulin pump can deliver the insulin in one of two ways. It can use what’s called basal insulin. Basal insulin is the delivery of continuous, small doses. There’s also bolus insulin. Bolus insulin refers to surges of insulin delivery close to mealtimes. 

If you use an insulin pump, you still have to check your blood sugar levels. Many people will check them at least four times a day, or you can use a continuous monitor. 

The pump utilizes the information you enter about your blood sugar levels and food intake to determine how much bolus insulin you need. 

Then the pump will recommend a bolus dose and wait for your approval before delivering it. 

Some pumps can automatically adjust basal doses based on the readings from a continuous glucose monitor. 

What Are the Pros and Cons of Insulin Pumps?

Some of the benefits of insulin pumps that lead people to choose to use them include:

  • You can do fewer insulin injections
  • You get adjustable, consistent delivery of insulin
  • They’re private and flexible
  • Pumps improve your blood sugar levels
  • Using a pump gives you a more precise dose than an injection, which is good for people who have a hard time calculating their dosage 

There are risks and complications of pumps to be aware of, too, although they’re pretty minimal.

Downsides can include the higher cost of a pump compared to injections and the fact that if you use a non-patch style, you can’t hide the tubing. A pump can also break, or the tubes can get disconnected. 

There are risks of setting up a pump improperly. You have to use your pump the right way and check your blood sugar on a regular basis. Otherwise, you might not get the right amount which can be life-threatening. 

Your healthcare provider should help you with your initial setup before you start using an insulin pump. 

They can also help you determine the specific option that’s right for you.