What are the Pros and Cons of Insulin Pumps? Is It Right for You?

Posted July 31, 2020 by Clint Kelly - See Editorial Guidelines

I have been using an insulin pump since 2014 to treat my type 1 diabetes. Specifically, I have been using the Omnipod patch pump. Through my experiences, I can provide you with the pros and cons of insulin pumps.

According to the American Diabetes Association, it is estimated that about 40,000 individuals are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes every year. Over the years, the number of diabetes patients using insulin pumps has increased greatly, with the majority of the patients being younger in age.

Pros and Cons of Insulin Pumps: Overall, insulin pumps have been proven to be beneficial for helping patients treat their diabetes condition. However, there are disadvantages that may outweigh the advantages for some patients. Malfunctions can occur, they can be inconvenient in some ways, and the cost is just way too high for many. Therefore, each patient must way the pros and cons against each other to determine if getting an insulin pump is right for them.

Throughout this article, I will use my experiences with my pump use to help you determine if getting an insulin pump is the right treatment option for you. First, let’s give an explanation of what an insulin pump is.

What is an Insulin Pump?

What are the Pros and Cons of Insulin Pumps

An insulin pump is a device that is used to treat diabetes patients. It is typically about the size of a deck of cards and is mostly used by those with type 1 diabetes. Some patients with type 2 diabetes may benefit from insulin pump therapy, as well.

There are many different insulin pumps on the market, all of which vary slightly in how they work. However, they all perform the same primary function, which is to provide insulin delivery to patients seamlessly.

They are filled with short-acting insulin and will need to be changed every 2-3 days. An infusion set attaches to the body with adhesive, and a small cannula sits just under the skin. This is how insulin is administered from the cartridge.

Patients, with the help of their doctor, will set a basal rate. The basal replaces the need for long-acting insulin since a small dose of short-acting insulin is delivered every hour. They will also plug-in their insulin-to-carb ratio into the device. Patients will then just need to plug in how many carbohydrates they are eating, and the insulin pump will calculate the bolus the patient needs.

Traditional pumps consist of an infusion set with tubing that connects to the device, which is normally kept in the patient’s pocket or hooked on their belt. Patch pumps do not require infusion sets, as they attach to the body via adhesive and are controlled with a wireless/tubeless device.

Now that you have a basic understanding of how insulin pumps work let’s get into the pros and cons of them.

Advantages of Insulin Pumps

With the growing advances in technology, insulin pumps have been improving greatly over the years, making the treatment of diabetes more manageable. Many that find success using insulin pumps are often able to live healthier and more fulfilling lives. The advantages of insulin pumps listed below will give you an idea of why that is.

Fewer Needle Pricks

What are the Pros and Cons of Insulin Pumps

Patients with type 1 diabetes require insulin to keep their blood sugars under control. I went a year living with diabetes before getting an insulin pump. During that year, I was injecting myself with insulin at least 4-5 times a day with insulin pens. That’s almost 2,000 needle pricks for the year. As you can imagine, that gets old really quick. With an insulin pump that you change every three days, you have significantly fewer needle pricks.

Bolus Calculator

Most insulin pumps come with a bolus calculator. So, when patients set up their pump, they will enter their insulin-to-carb ratio. To give yourself a bolus, all you need to do is plug in the among of carbohydrates you are consuming. For example, my insulin-to-carb ratio is 1-to-12. So, if I am eating 30 grams of carbs, the pump will automatically do the math for me to determine the exact dose I need. The bolus calculator on the pumps will most often take into account your blood sugar level and the amount of insulin on board.

More Accurate Dosages

Because the bolus calculator performs the functions above, an insulin pump provides very accurate dosages for patients. What makes it even more accurate is the ability of insulin pumps to deliver dosages that are fractions of a unit. For example, given my insulin-to-carb ratio above, if I am eating something that consists of 28 grams of carbs, my insulin pump will provide me with a bolus of 2.30 units.

Convenience and Flexibility

Insulin pumps allow for convenience and flexibility on multiple levels. First, you can adjust your basal rate easily throughout the day. This means you can suspend your insulin delivery when you work out to prevent hypoglycemia. You can have your insulin pump automatically raise and lower your basal rate based on your lifestyle. Since delivering insulin through a pump is easily done, it allows for flexibility with mealtimes. So, no more extra needle sticks if you decide to have dessert or a snack after your meal. 

Fewer Low Blood Sugar Episodes

Since the insulin pump allows you to be very specific with your basal rate and adjust it at any time, patients are less likely to have low blood sugar levels.

Reduced Glucose Fluctuations

Since insulin pumps allow for easy delivery of insulin and only use short-acting insulin, patients tend to experience fewer fluctuations in their glucose levels. The short-acting insulin used in pumps is more efficient for short periods, which makes the action of insulin more predictable.

Data Storage

One great advantage of insulin pumps is that the device stores much of your data. This includes blood sugar levels, insulin use, and so on. The data stored in the pump can help both you and your doctor better treat your condition.

Disadvantages of Insulin Pumps

What are the Pros and Cons of Insulin Pumps

Despite all of the advantage’s insulin pumps and how beneficial they are for some patients, there are some downsides. Here is a list of the disadvantages of insulin pumps.

Cost

The cost of insulin pumps is more expensive than using syringes or insulin pens. Most insurance companies will cover certain pumps, but there are still copays that the patient will need to take care of. Insulin pumps can cost up to $6,000 a year out-of-pocket, plus a couple thousand more for additional pump supplies.

Pump Malfunctions

One of the most frustrating disadvantages of insulin pumps for me is the pump malfunctions that can occur. They do not occur often, but it can be a serious inconvenience and can be dangerous. Some malfunctions include the cannula kinking, insulin leaking out, or a mechanical issue. Normally, the device will notify you if the pump is not working correctly. However, there have been instances where insulin was leaking out of the cannula, or for some other reason, I was not getting the insulin I needed and was unaware. This resulted in unexplainable hyperglycemia that took a few hours to bring back down.

Skin Irritation

Since insulin pumps are attached to the skin with adhesive, it can cause irritation, especially if you are allergic to adhesives. The truth of the matter is that our body’s skin is not used to a foreign object being stuck to our skin for multiple days. Having the cannula sit under the skin for a few days can also cause skin irritations, such as bruising.

Inconvenience

Though insulin pumps are convenient in many ways, they can also be an inconvenience. Having something attached to your body all the time can be frustrating, as it can get in the way of things and can also be socially embarrassing. I have personally accidentally ripped my insulin pump off multiple times, just performing day to day functions, such as exercising. This is an inconvenience as it can result in uncontrolled blood sugars and a waste of money.

Issues with Changing Infusion Sets

Insulin pumps typically require their infusion sites to be changed every two to three days. Changing infusion sites is a more complex process when compared to injecting with a syringe or pen. Bleeding and bruising can occur too during this process.

Learning Curve

If you do get an insulin pump, then you should be prepared for a steep learning curve. Many times, your doctor will offer to schedule a certified diabetes educator to aid you in setting up your insulin pump. However, there is a lot of information to retain when setting up your pump.

Conclusion

Understanding the pros and cons of insulin pumps can help you better make a decision if an insulin pump is right for you. I hope that my experiences and this article have given you greater insight into what is the proper treatment option for your diabetes condition.

If you are struggling to afford your diabetes medication, the Prescription Hope may be able to help. We work directly with pharmaceutical companies to help get patients their medication at a set, affordable cost. Enroll with us and start saving money.



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