Is an Insulin Pump for You?
More and more people with diabetes are considering using insulin pumps, hoping the computerized devices will enable them to enjoy a more flexible lifestyle. But while pumps can be beneficial, they're not for everyone.
"The pump generally is considered for people who have struggled to get control of their diabetes but have been unable to do so, for those needing tighter blood glucose control and for people who simply want the convenience and flexibility a pump offers," says Carole Mensing, R.N., M.A., a certified diabetes educator at the University of Connecticut, Farmington.
About the size of a beeper, insulin pumps are worn on a belt or carried in a pocket. They deliver a steady, measured dose of insulin through a flexible plastic tube called a catheter.
With the aid of a small needle, the catheter is inserted through the skin into fatty tissue and taped in place. The insertion place is changed every few days to reduce the risk for infection.
"Pumps deliver very precise insulin doses for different times of day, in a way that resembles the natural functioning of the pancreas," says Ms. Mensing.
Insulin pump therapy has been shown to reduce blood sugar fluctuations better than traditional intensive insulin regimens, such as daily multiple injections. This helps people avoid the extreme highs and lows that plague many diabetics who take injected insulin.
The resulting stable blood sugar levels make for better diabetes control, which can reduce the risk and severity of diabetic complications such as blindness, heart disease and kidney failure.
Over time, pump therapy leads to a more flexible eating schedule, enables you to exercise longer and more intensely and helps provide continuous blood sugar control if you have a variable work schedule.
People who use pumps must commit to monitoring their glucose regularly and working closely with their medical providers and diabetes educators -- all of which is time-consuming.
Another difficulty is cost. A pump costs around $5,000, and the supplies -- including insulin infusion lines, syringes, tape and batteries -- can run an additional $1,500 per year.
"Because of the cost involved, it's essential you check with your insurance company to confirm your level of coverage and deductible before moving ahead," says Ms. Mensing. "Once you've confirmed your expenses, you should meet with your doctor to see if you're a good candidate for pump therapy."