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Insulin pumps

If you’re thinking about using an insulin pump treat your Type 1 diabetes, we have loads of information to help you decide.
 

What is an insulin pump? 

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An insulin pump is a small electronic device that gives your body the regular insulin it needs throughout the day and night. There are 2 types of insulin pump – a tethered pump and a patch pump.

Both are attached to your body by a tiny tube called a cannula which goes sits just under your skin. 

You’ll need to learn how to change the cannula yourself, which eventually becomes really easy. You need to change your cannula every two or three days and make sure you move to a different place every time you change it.

Chaning your cannula site important because you can develop lipohypertrophy, which is where your body forms hard lumps that stop insulin working properly. You should also change sites to stop itching and rashes that form if you stick with the same site for too long.

Tethered pumps

A tethered pump is attached to your body by another small tube that connects to your cannula. 

The pump itself usually has all the controls on it and can be carried on your belt, in a pocket, a body band which is placed under your clothing if you don’t want it to be on show. 

Tethered pumps can be different in things like colour, screen size and some have extra features like Bluetooth remotes. 

Patch pumps

Patch pumps are attached directly onto your body where you’ve chosen to place your cannula. People tend put them on their legs, arms or stomachs.

Patch pumps have no extra tubing, which means the pump sits directly on your skin and is operated by a remote.

Unlike a tethered pump, patch pumps are temporary, so you’ll need to change the whole device when the pump alerts you, not just the infusion set and location. 

Your healthcare team will talk to you about the pump they think will work best for you, or which one they can get you on the NHS.
 

Bolus and basal insulin

When we talk about treating diabetes, we talk about two different types of insulin which are basal and bolus. We’re going to explain what these mean.

Bolus  

Bolus insulin is a rapid or quick acting insulin. A bolus does is taken when you eat or if you need to give yourself a correction dose. 

Most pumps have bolus calculators to help you figure out the right amount of insulin you’ll need. 

Basal 

Basal insulin, also known as background insulin, is the insulin that your pump gives you continuously throughout the day. 

This is usually a small amount and can be changed depending on things like the time of day and your activity levels. Your healthcare team will help you set your basal rates based on what your individual needs are. 

 

Advantages of insulin pumps

Disadvantages of insulin pumps

Better control of your blood glucose levels. Most people often have fewer highs and lows.  You'll need to have your pump attached to your all the time. Only take it off for small breaks, like when you're swimming or showering. 
You won't have to inject as often.  The infusion set can sometimes get blocked, so you might need to change it at short notice.
Fewer risks of highs and lows when you exercise. You'll need to take a lot of time to learn about your pump, especially when you first get your pump.
You'll have more flexibility in what, when and how much you eat. There's always a small risk of infection from the cannula. 
Better accuracy when you're bringing down high sugar levels. You'll always have to be aware of what insulin you need, so you'll still need to finger prick.


How to get an insulin pump

To get a pump for free in England and Wales, you’ll have to meet certain criteria set by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE for short). The criteria are about how you manage your diabetes, the hypos you’re having and your HbA1c level.

However, if you’re thinking about an insulin pump for your child, the NICE criteria is different Pumps are recommended for children when multiple daily insulin injections are impractical or inappropriate. Make sure you speak to your diabetes specialist about if this is the best option for your child. 

If you live in Scotland or Northern Ireland, your healthcare team will give you advice on whether you meet your local criteria for getting a pump and what the next steps are.
 

How much does an insulin pump cost? 

If you meet the criteria for a pump, you should be able to get your pump on the NHS for free. 

If you don’t meet the criteria, they cost around £2000 to £3000 and should last between 4 to 8 years. 

It’s important to remember you’ll also have to buy pump consumables, which are things like your infusion set. These cost around £1500 a year. This doesn’t include your prescription insulin, which you get for free.
 

Help and support with your pump

You should get pump training and ongoing support from your diabetes healthcare team.

Pump manufacturers also give support if you need help with the technology, and most have helplines you can call if you’re struggling. 

We also have our helpline which can help you and our forum where you can get support from other people who use or are trying to get a pump. There are also many pump support groups, like Insulin Pumpers. 

 

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