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Since insulin was discovered in 1921, treatments for diabetes have evolved a great deal. Today, there are various therapeutic treatments available to manage diabetes, including several types of insulin and several ways of administering it. Even though several kinds of insulin exist, all of them must be injected under the skin in the subcutaneous tissue. To do this, people can use syringes or injection pens and must sometimes administer them several times a day. Another way of injecting insulin, that has become quite popular, is the use of insulin pumps.
Insulin pumps are medical devices which allow people living with diabetes to administer insulin without having to use injections several times a day with syringes or injection pens.
Insulin pumps are usually made up of three components:
The reservoir is the component containing the insulin, the pump delivers the insulin to the body and the tubing allows the insulin to flow from the reservoir to the body. The cannula is inserted under the patient’s skin using a needle and is held in place with an adhesive patch for 24 to 72 hours. The insulin pump can be worn in several different places on the body. It can be worn on a belt, pocket, bra or it can be placed on a surface next to you (while you are sleeping, for example).
Insulin pumps deliver insulin much the same way a normal pancreas would. One of the advantages of using an insulin pump is that it uses only one type of insulin, fast-acting insulin. They are programmed to deliver basal insulin for 24 hours to fulfill the body’s basic needs just as the pancreas does. Also, additional doses called “bolus” are administered at mealtime or snack time according to carbohydrate intake and blood glucose results. The device includes a screen and various programming buttons to set up the pump and adjust insulin doses to be administered. Depending on the model, various alarm signals will sound if problems occur. It is important to test your blood glucose several times a day to ensure that you receive the correct dosage of insulin and to avoid blood glucose levels that are too high or too low.
Insulin pumps have been in use for a few years now. Today’s models are smaller, safer and easier to use than the older ones. Several manufacturers of insulin pumps exist, offering different models. Each model has its advantages and disadvantages, so it is important to talk to a health professional who monitors your diabetes to choose the model that is best adapted to your needs. Some models, such as the ones by Medtronic, include a blood glucose meter (Contour® LinK), which allows the results to be sent wirelessly to the pump where the adjustment of the insulin dose is made accordingly. This simplifies insulin therapy management even more and eliminates all risk of data entry errors. In addition, Medtronic is equipped with a continuous glucose monitoring system, the MiniLinkMC transmitter. This device, which is integrated in the insulin pump, measures your blood glucose in real time, displays your blood glucose readings on a screen, alerts you when your blood glucose levels are abnormal and has a temporary shut-off feature if hypoglycemia occurs.
Insulin pumps have several advantages and they simplify the delivery of insulin for people living with diabetes. Here are a few advantages of insulin pumps:
Despite the fact that insulin pumps are very practical, they are complex devices. It is important to have a good understanding of how the device works to avoid any complications. You should follow a training session on how to use the device correctly. Also, insulin pumps are not suitable for everyone. Your diabetes should already be under control for some time before you use an insulin pump.
In 2011, the Quebec Government decided to set up a universal access program for insulin pumps for children and adolescents under 18 years of age living with Type I diabetes. The government reimburses the purchase cost of the insulin pump and offers an annual amount for the reimbursement of supplies. If you wish to purchase an insulin pump (for yourself or your child), talk to your doctor or the health professional that monitors your diabetes.
For more information on insulin pumps, don’t hesitate to talk to your pharmacist or the health professional that monitors your diabetes.
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