The insulin pump is a great invention that can be used by many people with diabetes. However, many myths about insulin pumps still persist. For more information, talk to your health care provider.
• Insulin is always with you: Insulin in the pump is always with you so that on a busy morning, remembering a vial or pen of insulin is one less thing to worry about. With the push of a button, insulin is delivered when needed for meals, which is less conspicuous than using a syringe or pen, especially if eating out. Extra insulin can also be easily given if needed for high blood sugar.
• Less insulin needed: An insulin pump only needs to be filled with a short-acting insulin (e.g. Humalog, Novolog). A long-acting insulin (e.g. Lantus, Levemir) is not used. The pump uses the short-acting insulin to deliver a small amount throughout the day in place of the long-acting insulin. By doing this, the body can better utilize and use less insulin. This helps decrease medication cost.
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• Fewer low and high blood sugars: Insulin pumps provide the ability to change the amount of insulin delivered at any time of day to meet the needs at that moment, needs that can vary day to day and even hour to hour based on food, activity and stress. By contrast, long-acting or “basal” insulins by injection cannot be adjusted based on need at that moment. This helps to reduce low and high blood sugars.
• Fewer needles: When using an insulin pump, a syringe is used to put insulin in the pump but is no longer used to put insulin directly into the body. Most insulin pumps use an infusion set that uses a needle to get a piece of plastic under the skin so that insulin can get into the body. Some infusion sets do use a needle instead of a piece of plastic, but neither is usually felt by patients. These infusion sets are changed every two to three days.
• You have to count carbohydrates: Patients, especially those with Type 2 diabetes, do not need to count carbs. A set dose of insulin can be determined based on the number of carbs normally eaten at a meal. In order to have the best blood sugar control, a patient should try to consume around the same amount of carbs at a certain meal each day (for example, a bowl of cereal every day for breakfast). Counting carbs is beneficial to anyone who prefers a flexible diet.
• Pumps are very expensive: These devices are very expensive, but fortunately most insurance companies will cover most of the costs. Some insurance companies do require proof that patients are testing blood sugars and others require blood tests.
• Pumps replace what a normal pancreas would do: Insulin pumps deliver insulin throughout the day and at meals, just like the pancreas. But unfortunately, insulin pumps are not yet designed to be able to fully respond on their own to adjust insulin delivery when there is a spike or drop in blood sugar. The patient must still check her or his blood sugar and give the pump information about the blood sugar level and food being eaten in order for the correct amount of insulin to be delivered. Most pumps are now available with continuous glucose monitors, but even then some fingerstick testing is still needed. Research is ongoing regarding the creation of a full artificial pancreas.