Insulin Pump Basics

If you have type 1 diabetes or insulin-dependent type 2 diabetes that requires you to inject insulin, you are aware that maintaining consistently low blood glucose levels is an important goal for your overall health.  Uncontrolled diabetes can cause many serious complications including higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

The insulin pump is a tool to help you manage your condition that is growing in popularity. Many people find that using an insulin pump makes it easier to manage their blood sugar and allows them more freedom to eat and exercise when they want rather than on a specific schedule.

Insulin pumps deliver rapid-acting insulin 24 hours a day.  There are three ways the insulin is delivered:

  • Basal rate – This is the base rate the pump delivers to your body 24 hours a day.  This replaces a long-acting insulin injection and is approximately half your total daily insulin. You will need to fill the insulin reservoir in the pump and program the appropriate basal rate based on your doctor’s instructions.
  • Bolus – You choose when to give yourself a bolus dose.  Boluses are required to offset carbohydrates eaten at meals.  Some pumps can be set to deliver a bolus over varying lengths of time which can help you match your dose to the absorption rate of the foods you eat.  Bolus doses are controlled manually using buttons on the pump.
  • Correction – If your blood glucose is outside your target range, you can give a correction to adjust your pre-meal bolus.  This insulin dose is also given manually.

Most insulin pumps are small electronic devices about the size of a pager which can be clipped to clothing such as a belt, pocket, bra, sock, or underwear.  A small plastic cannula which is similar to a short needle is inserted just under the skin.  Plastic tubing connects the pump to a port located just over the cannula.  Most pumps are waterproof, but some people choose to stop their bolus dose and remove the pump when bathing or swimming.  Some newer pumps now attach directly to the skin without the use of any tubing.

Some insulin pumps also have the ability to continuously monitor your blood glucose levels.  If the pump senses that your sugar is dropping too low, it can automatically stop delivering your basal rate insulin for a predetermined time to prevent a dip into hypoglycemia.

If you chose to switch to an insulin pump, remember that it will take some time to get used to the pump and how to regulate your insulin doses.  If you are traveling, be sure to take a backup insulin pen or syringe in case there is a problem with your pump.

There are many insulin pumps available and new pumps continue to come before the FDA for approval.  Talk to your healthcare provider and do your research before selecting the right pump for you.

Denise DeWitt is a freelance writer for



American Diabetes Association. How do Insulin Pumps Work? Web. February 20, 2012.

American Diabetes Association. Getting Started with an Insulin Pumps. Web. February 20, 2012.

Mayo Clinic. Insulin pumps: Explore the pros and cons. Nancy Klobassa Davidson, RN and Peggy Moreland, RN. Web. February 20, 2012.

Diabetes Forecast. 2011 Insulin Pumps. Web. February 20, 2012.


Tags: insulin pump delivery,insulin pump basal rate,insulin pump bolus,insulin pump correction,continuous blood glucose monitor

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