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Insulin Pumps

Keeping your blood sugar level as close to the normal range as possible is important in minimizing the complications that can result after years of diabetes. An insulin pump is a useful device for achieving this control, especially in patients who have a drop in blood sugar during the night, an erratic work schedule requiring flexible therapy, or inadequate control with other methods.

What equipment is involved?
Just a pump unit and an infusion set. The pump unit is a plastic case that’s about the size of a deck of cards. It contains a reservoir or cartridge holding several days’ worth of insulin, a tiny battery-operated pump, and a computer chip regulating how much insulin is pumped. The infusion set is a thin plastic tube with a fine needle at the end. It carries the insulin from the pump to the site of infusion beneath your skin.

How does an insulin pump work?
It delivers insulin in two ways: continuously at a low dose and rapidly in a larger dose. The low dose is delivered every few minutes 24 hours a day to maintain a “basal” level of insulin, as the pancreas does in people without diabetes. Maintaining a low level of insulin cuts down on bouts of low blood sugar occurring in the morning and with unexpected exercise or stress. The larger, or “bolus,” doses are given before meals. With the press of a button, you program how much additional insulin the pump is to release, depending on results of blood sugar monitoring and the amount of food you intend to eat. Your body’s rhythms and requirements are unique, so you must work very closely with your physician to get the doses just right for you.

Isn’t wearing a pump all the time a bother?
Most people quickly adapt to wearing a pump. When the infusion set is properly inserted and the skin at the site is not irritated, you should not be aware of the device. The most common infusion site is the abdomen, and tubing comes in lengths long enough to allow you to put the pump in your pocket or clip it on your belt. The pump can be put in waterproof coverings during showering and swimming and protective cases during sports. Some pumps have a quick-release device for temporary detachment. Most patients feel that the adjustments they have to make are minor and that having their diabetes well controlled makes the effort worthwhile.

This information is not a substitute for medical treatment.