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The Advantages and Disadvantages of an Insulin Pump

What is an insulin pump? An insulin pump is a small, computerized device that delivers insulin continuously throughout the day. It attempts to mimic the normal pancreas's release of insulin, but you must tell the pump how much insulin to inject. It delivers insulin in two ways: a basal rate which is a continuous, small trickle of insulin that keeps blood glucose stable between meals and overnight; and a bolus rate, which is a much higher rate of insulin taken before eating to "cover" the food you plan to eat.

Effective, safe use of the pump requires:

  • Commitment to checking blood glucose at least 4 times a day, every day.
  • Using carbohydrate counting.
  • Adjusting insulin doses based on blood glucose levels, carbohydrate intake, and physical activity.

The main advantages of pump therapy are:

  • Increased flexibility in lifestyle.
  • Predictable insulin delivery.
  • Precise insulin delivery.
  • Ability to accurately deliver 1/10th of a unit of insulin.
  • Tighter blood glucose control, while reducing the risk of low blood glucose.
  • Reducing episodes of severe hypoglycemia.
  • Reducing wide fluctuations in blood glucose.
  • Helping manage the "dawn phenomenon."

The main disadvantages of pump therapy are:

  • Risk of skin infections at the catheter site.
  • Risk of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) from pump malfunction or absorption problems.
  • Cost: pumps are expensive, plus the continuing cost of supplies.
  • Checking blood glucose at least 4 times per day.
  • Letting others know that you have diabetes.

Is pump therapy for you?

 Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you ready to be attached to a device that lets people know you have diabetes?
  • Do you have realistic expectations? It is not the "magic bullet" that will solve all your blood glucose problems.
  • Are you comfortable with the technology and mechanics of operating a pump?
  • Are you committed to checking blood glucose at least 4 times per day?
  • Are you committed to problem-solving using a sophisticated understanding of insulin, carbohydrates, and activity levels?
  • Do you have a healthcare team that is familiar with insulin pumps?

Page last updated: April 18, 2014