An insulin pump is an electronic device that administers insulin. For some individuals living with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), an insulin pump can help them manage the condition.

T2DM is a health condition in which the body cannot produce enough, or has difficulty responding to, insulin. This can prevent glucose from entering the cells and converting it into energy. This results in a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream.

An insulin pump is an electronic device that helps manage and maintain insulin levels by delivering insulin following the schedule a person requires. Although insulin pumps are more common for those living with type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM), they can also help some individuals living with T2DM.

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An insulin pump is a small, electronic device that delivers short-acting insulin through a small catheter, according to the schedule a person requires. It is a form of insulin therapy. Insulin is a hormone responsible for helping maintain blood sugar levels.

There are two types of insulin pumps. An insulin pump with tubing connects to the internal catheter through a second tube. A person can wear this type of pump by attaching it to a belt and putting it in a pocket or body band.

A patch pump attaches directly to the skin and does not require a second tube. A person will have to change the pump when necessary, as patch pumps are disposable.

The chosen insulin pump then works by administering small amounts of insulin according to the schedule a person needs.

This may be a steady, continuous dose throughout the day and night, which a person can program the insulin pump to administer automatically. Alternatively, a person can operate the insulin pump manually and administer insulin when they require it, such as around mealtimes.

Read on to learn more about insulin pumps.

Fluctuations in blood glucose levels may lead to several complications of diabetes, such as heart disease, vision problems, and kidney disease. A 2020 study suggests an insulin pump can help reduce variations in blood glucose levels when a person has diabetes.

Certain individuals may be more suitable candidates for an insulin pump and can include:

  • those not meeting blood glucose targets
  • a person with gastroparesis, a health condition in which food passes through the stomach more slowly than it should
  • those experiencing nocturnal or frequent low blood sugar levels
  • a person experiencing hypoglycemia unawareness
  • a pregnant person
  • those experiencing the dawn phenomenon
  • a person who has an irregular shift pattern at work
  • those wanting more flexibility with diabetes management
  • those desiring fewer injections
  • those with unpredictable eating habits
  • a young person with diabetes who only requires smaller amounts of insulin

However, it is important to note an insulin pump may not be suitable for everyone. For example, an individual must be willing to wear the device on their body, be able to tolerate the adhesive on their skin, and have adequate insurance coverage for the device.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) also emphasizes that people should be prepared to use the pump correctly and safely. This will involve taking time to educate themselves about pump maintenance, having a good knowledge of managing insulin levels, and learning how to calculate levels of extra insulin they may require from the pump.

If a person with T2DM is having difficulty reaching blood glucose targets despite taking insulin medication, an insulin pump could help them reach those targets.

An insulin pump can interact with a person’s blood glucose which they use to help them understand the patterns of their insulin swings. An insulin pump may also be able to automatically adjust the insulin levels it administers based on the information from the blood glucose monitor.

Other benefits of an insulin pump for T2DM can include:

  • no longer needing to take insulin medications
  • lowering the risk of developing hypoglycemia, when blood glucose levels fall too low
  • being able to adjust insulin administration before, during, and after exercise
  • giving more flexibility in what or when a person eats
  • being able to regulate blood glucose levels and reduce glucose swings

A 2018 study suggests a person with T2DM could see significant improvements in maintaining insulin levels within approximately 12 weeks.

There may be several risks to a person with T2DM using an insulin pump. Some of these can include:

  • cyber security risks due to the wireless connections of certain insulin pumps
  • risk of insulin overdose
  • skin reactions, such as allergic contact dermatitis
  • risk of developing diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) — a serious complication of diabetes — or low blood glucose levels, if the catheter tubing blocks, leaks, dislodges, or the pump malfunctions
  • skin infections due to the catheter tubing insertion under the skin
  • catheter tubing catching on objects, which can be painful

According to the ADA, following a healthy diet and exercising regularly are key treatment strategies for T2DM.

Other treatment strategies for T2DM that can help regulate blood glucose levels include:

  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • getting enough sleep
  • quitting smoking
  • taking insulin medications orally or through injection
  • reducing stress

Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) is a health condition in which the body cannot produce enough, or has difficulty responding to, insulin. The insulin hormone transfers glucose to cells to convert it into energy. A lack of insulin can cause a buildup of glucose levels in the bloodstream.

An insulin pump is a small electronic device that administers small amounts of insulin following the schedule a person requires.

An insulin pump may help a person with T2DM manage insulin levels which can help prevent low blood glucose and glucose swings. Other benefits of an insulin pump for a person with T2DM can include more flexibility with what and when they eat and no longer requiring insulin medications.