Insulin Pumps Are Convenient, but Still Require Your Attention


An insulin pump sounds like a clunky machine, but it's really a small electronic device—the size of a cell phone or pager—that delivers insulin through a tiny tube connected to a needle or catheter that is placed under the skin.

The pump can be worn under the clothing and detached when you need to shower or if you want to go swimming.

Most people with type 2 diabetes don't need a pump
The machine, which holds a two- to three-day supply of insulin, eliminates the need for multiple daily injections, but you still have to calculate your insulin dose several times a day to make sure you program the pump for the right amount. The catheter has to be changed every two to three days.

The vast majority of insulin pump users have type 1 diabetes. Because they don't produce any of this vital hormone, they need multiple injections daily.

"Most people with type 2 diabetes don't need to have an insulin pump because they have a pancreas that makes some insulin. You're adding to what they're able to produce themselves," says Glenn Cunningham, MD, an endocrinologist and professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "A type 1 diabetic doesn't produce any insulin. The benefit of the pump is that you can vary the amount of insulin required to control glucose at a fasting state."

However, if you have type 2 diabetes and need multiple insulin injections, pumps can make it easy to meld your need for insulin with your lifestyle.

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Convenient, once you learn how to use it
Want to skip a meal or dine later than usual? No problem, as long as you program your basal, or background, insulin needs correctly and adjust your bolus, or mealtime insulin dose, to match the carbohydrates in your meal.

The pump is a convenient way to take insulin, but as with injections, you still have to be willing to check your blood sugar frequently and make adjustments to your insulin, diet, and exercise to respond to those test results, says the American Diabetes Association.

In one 24-week study from 2003, researchers compared two groups of type 2 patients who were randomly assigned to receive pump therapy or insulin by injection. The study found that 93% of people new to the pump actually preferred this option to traditional injection therapy. And here's another plus: Both groups had improvements in the A1C levels, but the pumpers tended to have lower blood sugars, particularly after breakfast.

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Last Updated: May 11, 2008

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