Living With an Insulin Pump
An insulin pump is a treatment option for people who live with diabetes and need to take insulin. Wearing an insulin pump helps you or your loved one stay on top of your insulin needs every day. But there are important things to know and learn.
New to using an insulin pump? Find out tips to help manage daily activities.
What’s an Insulin Pump, and How Does It Work?
If you have type 1 diabetes, you’ll need to take insulin shots or wear an insulin pump to replace the insulin your body needs but doesn’t make. If you have type 2 diabetes, you may need to take insulin if other treatments are not able to keep your blood sugar within your target range.
An insulin pump is about the size of a small smartphone. It usually has a display screen, a place for an insulin container, and a thin tube with a needle that attaches to your body (the infusion set). The needle goes into the fatty layer under your skin, usually in the stomach area.
This device delivers insulin to manage blood sugar almost the way your body would: a steady flow and an extra dose. The steady flow is your insulin pump regularly giving you short-acting or rapid-acting insulin, called basal insulin. To keep your blood sugar from spiking after eating, you can program the pump to deliver an extra dose, called bolus insulin.
How to Use an Insulin Pump When You’re Physically Active
With an insulin pump, you can adjust insulin doses and durations, reducing the risk of exercise-related low blood sugar. However, wearing an insulin pump during physical activity has its own challenges.
The type, intensity, and duration of physical activity can affect your blood sugar levels. It’s important to keep track of your blood sugar before, during, and after you’re active and share the results with your health care team. They can help you to set insulin doses on your pump if needed.
If you have trouble keeping your pump in place, you may:
- Apply medical tape around the edges of your infusion set.
- Ask your doctor if you can disconnect the pump and for how long during physical activity.
- Ask your doctor if you can place your infusion set in a part of your body that moves less when you’re active.
How to Shower or Swim With an Insulin Pump
Insulin pumps can handle some moisture, but not all are waterproof. If you can’t or don’t want to disconnect your pump, you may:
- Ask your health care team for a longer set of tubing that won’t limit your movement. That way you can put your pump on a shelf or place it on the floor beside the bathtub. Or put the pump inside a waterproof pouch and hang it on a shower curtain hook.
- Put the pump in a waterproof case before swimming and place it securely under a lightweight wetsuit, scuba top, or T-shirt.
It’s important to make sure that your pump doesn’t get too warm or too cold when you’re in the shower or bath or while swimming. Insulin is sensitive to temperature. Exposure to heat or cold can reduce the quality of the insulin. The ideal temperature for your insulin pump may vary by brand. You can check the user guide or the label on your pump.
How to Wear an Insulin Pump in Bed
You may have some questions about wearing an insulin pump in bed. What if you roll onto the pump, get tangled up in the tube, or press a button while sleeping?
Rolling onto your insulin pump won’t damage it — it’s designed to be worn when you’re awake or asleep. And the tube is thick enough not to get too tangled. If the tangling still bothers you, try using less tubing when you change your infusion set next time.
It’s also unlikely to press any buttons on the pump to deliver a bolus in your sleep. The buttons are designed not to be pressed by accident, and setting a bolus needs more than one press of a button. But if sleeping on the pump makes you uncomfortable, try to clip the pump to your pajamas, put it inside a pocket, or place it under the pillow to keep it in a fixed position.
What about sex? It’s a good idea to ask your doctor if you can take your pump off during intimate moments and for how long. Sex is a form of exercise, so keep in mind that blood sugar may drop while you’re sexually active.
How to Hide an Insulin Pump
While insulin pumps keep getting smaller, fitting a device into your day-to-day clothing choices can be a challenge. If you prefer not showing your insulin pump, you may:
- Choose underwear with pockets and put your pump into a pocket.
- Use a bra pouch that is available for insulin pumps.
- Clip the pump to a belt, armband, or leg strap.
- Tape your pump to your skin where it will be covered by your clothing.
Have a Backup Plan
Using an insulin pump doesn’t take away the need to check your blood sugar. Checking blood sugar regularly is important because it will warn you if your pump stops working right. And if it breaks or falls off, you need to be ready to give yourself insulin by injection. To get prepared:
- Ask your doctor about creating a backup kit.
- Update your insulin backup plan at every routine visit.
- Have your pump’s customer service number in hand so that you can get help to reset the device if needed.
Using an insulin pump may make you or your loved one’s diabetes management easier. It’s not permanent; you can change your mind and return to injections at any time. Talk with your health care team to find which method best fits your needs.
You may also want to ask your doctor for a referral for diabetes self-management education and support (DSMES) for hands-on help with your device.