Advantages and Disadvantages of Insulin Pumps

If you suffer from diabetes, then you may find one of the most distressing aspects of the condition to be the constant need for insulin injections. If you are a little shy around needles, or just don’t like the idea of constantly stabbing yourself in the arm, then staving off chocolate can seem like child’s play compared to having to constantly go through this rigmarole.

Any alternative then might be quite tempting, and that might include the very alluring prospect of an insulin pump – which is a device that can administer insulin continuously via an infusion. Here you use a pump along with a disposable reservoir for the insulin and infusion set and then ‘let it do its thing’ for 2-3 days without the need for constant injections. Because the insulin is being administered intravenously it is faster acting and thus can provide more freedom for the individual in terms of diet and exercise plans. Of course this is done in conjunction with blood sugar monitoring and a controlled diet. Some of these pumps also include a ‘bolus wizard’ which can calculate the amount of bolus insulin needed based on activity, anticipated carbohydrates intake and currently active insulin.

However, you know there’s going to be a drawback or two because otherwise every diabetic would be using insulin pumps. Here we will look at what those are, and measure the pros against the cons to help you decide whether this is a solution you’re interested in.

Benefits of Insulin Pumps

• Some report a better quality of life as a result of not having to use constant injections and due to the increased freedom that comes from the faster acting insulin

• It makes it impossible to ‘forget’ or ‘lose’ insulin injections

• Neuropathy (a normal side effect of diabetes) may be reduced or eliminated entirely

• Insulin pumps allow for tighter amounts of insulin than would be possible with a normal syringe which can help to reduce the chance of long term complications

• The bolus wizard helps to make this even more accurate and automated while programmable basal rates help to regulate varying amounts of insulin at different parts of the day – useful for issues such as the ‘Dawn phenomenon’ (whereby patients experience an increase in blood sugar between 2am and 8am).

Negatives of Insulin Pumps

• Insulin pumps and the related paraphernalia are much more expensive than syringes

• The pump must be worn at all times which makes many regular activities difficult from swimming to playing sports. Some people with an active lifestyle will find this uncomfortable and impractical

• There are risks surrounding damage to the pump/discharge of the battery/leaks etc

• Build-up of scar tissue around the cannula is common and this can result in multiple scars around the body as the user has to find new suitable ‘spots’ for the pump

• Some users may experience allergic reactions

• Some insulin may be wasted during refilling

Obviously then there’s no right or wrong answer, and really the option best suited to you will depend on your lifestyle and preferences. For someone who isn’t highly active and has some more available cash – perhaps in the later years of their lives – this might be a very viable solution. Either way, it is useful to know that there are alternatives and it might be worth a shot if you’re growing tired of injections.

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Julie-Ann Amos

Julie-Ann Amos is a qualified biologist (Genetics) and experienced freelance health and medical writer from Gloucestershire in the UK. She is also a licensed registered homeopath and is particularly interested in new developments in health and medicine.

Amos studied biological science and genetics at the University of East Anglia from 1980 to 1983 and received her BSc degree. She conducted post graduate study at the Institute of Administrative Management and in 1989 received a diploma in administrative management. In 1990 she enrolled at the University of Portsmouth and graduated with an MA degree in manpower studies and human resource management in 1992.

wikipedia, twitter: @julieannamos, linkedin: jamos1

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