Insulin pumps and glucose sensors assist type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients by controlling blood glucose levels day-to-day, allowing for an improved quality of life despite having diabetes.
The Insulin Pump and Glucose Sensor
An insulin pump is a device that functions similar to the pancreas by releasing insulin into the body at intervals as determined by the doctor, based on the patient’s needs. The insulin pump itself is a small, square-shaped device that can be clipped onto a belt or placed inside a patient’s pocket. The device consists of a tiny insulin container that should be changed every 3 days, as well as a flexible tube which is inserted just beneath the patient’s skin.
An insulin pump can infuse insulin into the body in the 2 following ways:
- Basal release – A small amount of insulin is continuously released into the body.
- Bolus release – An extra dose of insulin can be administered by demand before a meal based on the patient’s diet and according to blood glucose levels at various times of the day.
Generally, diabetic patients check their blood glucose levels using a device that pricks the fingertip and provides the patient with near instant readings. However, the glucometer cannot provide constant, continuous readings.
In the past few years there have been developments in the field that allow Continuous Glucose Monitoring or CGM to be done more easily, enabling diabetics to receive 24-hour blood glucose level readings.
A glucose sensor is a tiny device that can easily be placed beneath the skin of a patient. It analyzes glucose levels in the interstitial fluid at regular intervals. For example, every 5 minutes and sends these results via radio waves to the monitoring device. Patients can get a reading of their blood glucose levels and assess any trends related to increases and decreases, continuously, and at any time. Additionally, the device has a system in place to warn the patient when their blood glucose levels are too high or too low.
Patients can use a glucose sensor alongside an insulin pump to help regulate their insulin levels more effectively.
Moreover, diabetics who are not yet confident in regulating their own blood glucose levels and therefore suffer from large fluctuations in their glucose levels are now able to have a sensor installed — which will assist in analyzing blood glucose levels for a period of 6 days at a time. Afterwards, patients can remove the monitor and download the results for their own analysis and to assess any trends that may have occurred. This can help a patient better understand how to regulate their blood glucose levels through insulin use and the medications they are taking. When using a continuous glucose monitoring device, patients still need to do at least 2 fingerstick blood tests per day to calibrate and ascertain the accuracy of the glucose sensor.
Who Can Use an Insulin Pump
Insulin pumps are suitable for type 1 diabetes patients, as well as type 2 diabetes patients whose pancreases are able to only produce very little amounts of insulin.
Insulin pumps are also suitable for:
- Type 1 diabetes patients who use subcutaneous insulin injections but are not able to control their blood glucose levels and/or whose blood glucose levels are continuously fluctuating.
- Those who often suffer from low blood glucose levels but do not show warning symptoms of low sugar (hypoglycemia unawareness).
- Type 1 diabetes patients who are planning a pregnancy and so are required to regulate their blood glucose levels.
Preparations for Use of an Insulin Pump
Patients have to to meet with the doctor to discuss getting started with insulin pump treatment. Patients will also receive a detailed explanation and training in using an insulin pump from their doctor, diabetes nurse, and nutritionist. The process takes around 2-3 hours to complete. Patients are also required to have follow-ups and keep regular contact with the medical team.
Benefits of Using an Insulin Pump and Glucose Sensor
- Helps patients observe and regulate their blood glucose levels, regulate symptoms, and better prevent complications from diabetes.
- Assists doctors by providing data related to the treatment, allowing for treatment and medication adjustments to be made if necessary.
- Reduces risk of hypoglycemia.
- More convenient and less painful, as patients will not have to give themselves injections many times per day.
- Insulin delivered closely mimics the body’s normal insulin secretion.
- Improves the quality of life for the patient as it allows for greater flexibility, such as with eating, exercising, and traveling.
Insulin pumps are not for every diabetes patient, as some may feel uneasy about what is required. Also, during the initial stages of using an insulin pump, patients must spend an appropriate amount of time training themselves on how to properly and safely use the insulin pump.
Potential Risks and Complications
- The area in which the device is attached is at risk of infection if the device is not changed properly every 3 days.
- There may be issues with how the device functions during use, such as insulin tubing becoming blocked or the insulin needle being bent.
Patients should strictly follow the advice of their doctors when using an insulin pump and glucose sensor. Patients should also cooperate with the medical team and attend all follow-up appointments to track their progress.
Bumrungrad International Clinic (BIC) Building, 19th floor
Bumrungrad International Hospital, Bangkok, Thailand