How Does an Insulin Pump Work?

Many individuals with diabetes use an insulin pump.1 Insulin is necessary for everyone with type 1 or childhood diabetes and many adult-onset or type 2 diabetes. Some people use an insulin pen or needle to inject themselves. However, other people use an insulin pump.

People with type 1 diabetes and type 2 need to take insulin to stabilize their blood sugar levels. For now, there are two options: injecting yourself with a needle or pen or using an insulin pump. Many people prefer the latter option as it allows them to avoid frequent injections.

What’s an insulin pump

It is a small digital device that the user wears. In addition to delivering insulin, such as monitoring blood sugar levels2, the insulin is provided to the user’s body through a thin tube under the user’s skin.

Among Americans, it was estimated that about 350,000 people use insulin pumps, 90% have type 1 diabetes.

How Does An Insulin Pump Work?

The pump is designed to mimic the natural way people manage insulin – there is a gradual, steady flow throughout the day, plus an extra amount at mealtimes. The steady-state is the dose of basal insulin and the extra doses at mealtimes are called bolus doses3. Both of these are programmable. This allows the user, for example, to use a larger bolus when they eat a lot of carbs. A bolus can also be used at other times when blood sugar trends are high.

How large is the insulin pump?

It is a small device about the size of a smartphone. It is generally easy to wear. The device is attached to the user’s body with either a cannula or needle placed in the abdomen, buttock, or thigh.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Insulin Pumps

An insulin pump has both advantages and disadvantages. Some of the advantages include:

  • Fewer needles are needed. Just one shot every few days.
  • More accuracy, so better management of blood sugar levels.
  • Fewer blood sugar lows
  • It’s easier to plan meals, snacks, and exercise
  • A1c levels may improve
  • The bolus is easier to manage
  • Early morning high blood sugar is easier to manage

There are also some disadvantages to using an insulin pump. These include:

  • Needing to enter information into the pump all day
  • We need to change the infusion set every few days
  • Regular monitoring to make sure the pump is working correctly – if you don’t do this, there is a risk of diabetic ketoacidosis, which is life-threatening.
  • Training is required to learn to use the pump. This could be time-consuming.
  • The pump’s supplies can be expensive

For those considering using an insulin pump or who would like to learn more about diabetes, Tandem Diabetes Care provides informational articles on its website. It also offers the t: slim X2 insulin pump, a touchscreen that makes it easy to use.

  1. Weissberg-Benchell, Jill, Jeanne Antisdel-Lomaglio, and Roopa Seshadri. “Insulin pump therapy: a meta-analysis.” Diabetes care 26.4 (2003): 1079-1087. ↩︎
  2. Avari, P., M. Reddy, and N. Oliver. “Is it possible to constantly and accurately monitor blood sugar levels, in people with Type 1 diabetes, with a discrete device (non‐invasive or invasive)?.” Diabetic Medicine 37.4 (2020): 532-544. ↩︎
  3. Walsh, John, Ruth Roberts, and Timothy Bailey. “Guidelines for optimal bolus calculator settings in adults.” Journal of diabetes science and technology 5.1 (2011): 129-135. ↩︎

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Icy Health Editorial Team

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