Living With an Insulin Pump
Controlling your blood sugar when you have diabetes can be tricky. An insulin pump can help make managing your diabetes easier.

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Picture of woman not experiencing diabetes effects Living With an Insulin Pump

If you have diabetes and you need to take multiple daily insulin injections to keep it under control, an insulin pump may be an option for you.

An insulin pump offers accurate insulin dosing, which gives you better blood sugar control. This can help you feel better by preventing shifts in blood sugar. This convenient tool can also reduce the risks of long-term complications of diabetes.

Unlike shots, an insulin pump lets your insulin delivery fit in with your lifestyle, not the other way around. But it's important to be realistic about what an insulin pump is and what it can and can't do. It takes training and dedication to use it right. It's also expensive and may not be covered by your insurance.

What is an insulin pump?
An insulin pump is a computerized device that delivers insulin into your body. About the size of a deck of cards, you can attach the pump to a belt or bra, or keep it in a pocket. It weighs about 3 ounces.

When programmed to do so, a plunger inside the device pumps out a measured amount of insulin through a thin tube, called a catheter. The tip of the tube, called the cannula, is placed just under your skin.

The insulin pump delivers insulin in two different ways:

  • Basal insulin is programmed to pump small amounts of insulin continuously, much like your pancreas would. You can set it for different amounts of insulin to be pumped in at different times of the day or night.
  • Bolus insulin can be set to give you extra insulin whenever you need it, such as at meals or if your blood sugar level becomes too high.

It takes teamwork
An insulin pump is just one tool in your diabetes management plan. It can give you more control and flexibility. But you must still play an active role in your diabetes management. An insulin pump can't think for itself. It's up to you to make sure it does its job effectively. To get the most out of your pump:

  • Check your blood sugar levels as often as your doctor suggests. Using an insulin pump helps you maintain good blood sugar control. Be sure to monitor your blood sugar levels frequently so you know if you need to make any adjustments to your insulin dosage. Ask your doctor how often and when you should be testing. 
  • Count and convert carbs if directed by your doctor. A major benefit of an insulin pump over insulin injections is that you have more flexibility in what and when you eat. In exchange for that flexibility, though, you may need to do your part counting carbs. Before each meal, add up the amount of carbohydrates (nutrients that affect your blood sugar level) in it to figure out how much bolus insulin you'll need. Then set the pump to release it. Your doctor or diabetes educator can help you learn how to do this.
  • Restart when you reconnect. Although you can exercise and play sports with your pump on (keeping it in a pump case or under an elastic band), you can disconnect and take it off for short periods of time, too. You may also want to take it off when you bathe or swim. However, remember to reconnect and reprogram the pump to make up for the insulin doses you missed. Don't disconnect for more than 1 to 2 hours at a time.
By Jenilee Matz, MPH, Staff Writer
Created on 02/19/2008
Updated on 09/06/2011
  • Joslin Diabetes Center. The advantages and disadvantages of an insulin pump.
  • American Diabetes Association. How do insulin pumps work?
  • American Diabetes Association. Getting started with an insulin pump.
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