Insulin Infusion Therapy For Type I Diabetes – What is an Insulin Pump?

Decades ago, people with Type I (juvenile) diabetes had to rely on regular injections to control blood glucose levels. Today, insulin infusion (also known as insulin pump therapy) has eliminated the need for painful, frequent and invasive injections for tens of thousands of diabetics. 

Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease. It causes the body to destroy the cells that produce insulin, a hormone which is critical to regulating the body’s level of blood glucose.  The disease typically manifests itself in childhood or the teen years (though it has been found babies and in young adults.) 

Those with Type I diabetes must use manufactured insulin delivered through the skin directly into the body. Before the development of the insulin pump, the only way to deliver the hormone was by injecting it into the blood via a needle. Sufferers had to test their blood throughout the day, usually by pricking a finger and applying a droplet of blood to a test strip. The strip indicates blood glucose levels in the body, and determines whether or not an insulin injection is needed. 

The development of insulin infusion makes delivery of this critical hormone easier and less prone to human error and the pitfalls of guesswork. Insulin infusion takes place through the use of an insulin pump. 

An insulin pump consists of a small, digitalized computer, a cannula (or tube) and a needle. The needle is inserted just under the skin of the patient, usually in the abdominal region. It is typically held in place by an adhesive pad or strip. The needle is connected to the digital pump device by the cannula. The needle remains under the skin twenty-four hours per day, and the small pump can be clipped to clothing, usually a belt or pants waistband. The entire device is relatively discreet and is difficult to detect underneath a person’s clothing. 

The insulin pump contains an internal reservoir which holds the hormone. Instructions for correct dosage amounts and injection timings are entered into the computerized device. Once programmed, the device will deliver the hormone through the tube and needle and into the body as required. The pump can also be manually activated if extra doses of insulin are needed which have not been pre-programmed into the device. 

Blood glucose levels must still be checked regularly. However, the need for manual needle injections of insulin is eliminated with the use of a pump. It may also reduce the total number of daily glucose tests that are needed. 

Insulin infusion for Type I diabetes is a relatively new technology, but is rapidly gaining acceptance in the medical community for its numerous advantages, which include:  

*Ease of administration: Insulin infusion has been a lifesaver for many Type I diabetes sufferers, particularly children. Children with Type I diabetes are able to attend school and participate in regular daily activity, and parents need not worry about finding someone to administer insulin to their child in their absence. Nor do they need to worry about a child going into insulin shock while at school. Parents can simply fill and program the pump and know that their child will receive the correct amount of insulin throughout the day. 

*Convenience: Insulin infusion is not disruptive to normal daily activity. Diabetics need not take time out of regular activities to administer insulin. 

*Dosage level control: Sometimes the amount of insulin a person requires is so small (particularly in the case of babies and very small children) that manual administration poses significant risk of overdosing. The insulin pump, on the other hand, can accurately deliver even very small amounts of insulin to the body. 

Unfortunately, insulin infusion is considered to be too new a technology by many insurance companies. Therefore, many of them do not cover insulin pumps for diabetic patients. However, insulin pumps have frequently proved themselves to be life-saving devices, especially in children, and they are slowly becoming recognized as a legitimate and necessary form of Type I diabetes treatment rather than merely devices of convenience. Pressure from consumers and the producers of insulin pumps have caused some insurance companies to change their policies regarding the coverage of insulin pumps. It’s likely that more companies will follow suit in the years and decades to come.