Insulin Pumps: Types, Price, Pros & Cons UK (2023)
Time to read 9 min
Time to read 9 min
If you're living with diabetes, you know how important it is to manage your blood sugar levels. Traditional insulin injections can be inconvenient and painful, but advances in medical technology have led to the development of insulin pumps.
These devices deliver tiny amounts of insulin without needing injection, providing more precise control over your blood glucose levels. In this article, we'll explore the different types of insulin pumps available, their features, and the pros and cons associated with them.
Whether you're considering an insulin pump for the first time or considering upgrading your current model, this guide will help you make an informed decision.
Insulin pumps are devices that deliver insulin into the body. About the size of a smartphone, the pump can be attached to your clothes, belt, or pocket.
The pump provides a continuous supply of insulin day and night to keep your blood glucose levels stable. It can be programmed to release different amounts of insulin throughout the day with doses that can be adjusted according to your needs and diabetes treatment plan.
They also have unique features that simplify your life, including smartphone connectivity, alarm settings, and even reminder features.
According to Diabetes UK, about 1 in every 1000 diabetics has an insulin pump.
A 2016-2017 study also showed that about 19% of children and 15.6% of adults with type 1 diabetes have an insulin pump.
Studies published by the American Diabetes Association show that this number is increasing significantly, especially among 12 to 26-year-olds with type 1 diabetes.
An insulin pump usually consists of three components:
The Pump: A small device containing an insulin reservoir that can be programmed to deliver insulin via buttons, a touchscreen, or a smartphone/watch.
An Infusion Set: An infusion set connects the insulin pump to the body and is attached to the skin via a strong adhesive. It contains the cannula, a flexible tube that penetrates the skin into the underlying fatty tissue, which makes sure insulin reaches the correct skin layer and depth for absorption.
Tubing: A soft, flexible, thin tube that connects the pump to the infusion set.
Insulin pumps work by delivering insulin from the reservoir to the infusion set via the tubing. The cannula of the infusion set then slowly drips small amounts of insulin into your subcutaneous tissue. From there, the insulin is absorbed and regulates your blood sugar levels.
Insulin pumps are usually programmed to deliver basal insulin, a set insulin rate determined by your doctor for keeping your blood sugar stable throughout the day.
It's similar to the intermediate or long-acting insulin one would traditionally take with a needle and syringe.
Your healthcare professional will determine your basal insulin dose based on how your body responds to treatment.
In addition to basal insulin, an insulin pump keeps your blood sugar level from rising after meals by providing a bolus insulin (mealtime insulin) dose. Bolus doses usually contain rapid-acting insulin, such as aspart or glulisine, which starts working within 4-20 minutes.
Sometimes, your doctor might prescribe short-acting insulin instead, such as insulin regular, which works within 30 minutes.
However, unlike with your basal insulin, a pump doesn't automatically give you a bolus insulin dose. You must program your insulin pump to release a bolus dose with your meals.
Your diabetes healthcare team will usually train you to do this and all other aspects of using an insulin pump.
Sometimes, your doctor will recommend a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) with your insulin pump. A CGM is a handy device that contains a blood glucose meter for measuring your blood sugar throughout the day. It gives you feedback that lets you know how well your blood glucose is under control.
Some CGMs can be paired with an insulin pump to save you the trouble of manually programming your extra insulin dose at meal times.
For example, if you have high blood sugar because you ate or drank too many carbs, the CGM will tell your pump to inject insulin.
The CGM readings automatically tell your insulin pump the amount of insulin to inject using a built-in bolus calculator.
On the other hand, some insulin pumps have an advanced feature that shuts down insulin delivery if the CGM shows your blood sugar is getting too low (hypoglycemia).
Some popular insulin pumps with CGM integrations include:
Medtronic MiniMed 640G
Medtronic MiniMed Paradigm Veo
Animas Vibe with Dexcom G4 sensors
There are generally two types of insulin pumps: tethered and patch pumps.
Patch pumps, also known as disposable pumps, are small, lightweight, and easy to use.
They are designed to be worn on the skin, typically on the back, buttocks, or abdomen.
These pumps contain a small reservoir of insulin that is gradually released over several days.
There's usually a very short, fine tube that delivers the insulin from the patch into the subcutaneous layer of the skin.
A patch pump is usually worn for 3-5 days before it needs to be replaced, hence the name disposable pumps.
Convenience: Patch pumps are easy to apply and remove, and do not requireubing or programming.
Discretion: Patch pumps are small and discreet, making them ideal for individuals who want to maintain privacy while still receiving insulin therapy.
Portability: Patch pumps are lightweight and portable, allowing individuals to engage in physical activities without worrying about the pump getting in the way.
Cost-effective: Patch pumps are generally less expensive than tethered pumps, eliminating the need for frequent trips to the pharmacy to refill insulin prescriptions.
Limited Insulin Capacity: Patch pumps have a limited capacity for storing insulin, so they may not be suitable for individuals requiring large amounts of insulin.
Short Battery Life: Patch pumps typically have a shorter battery life than tethered pumps, which can be inconvenient for individuals needing to use their pump frequently.
No Programming Features: Patch pumps do not offer advanced programming features, which can limit their versatility in customizing insulin doses and schedules.
Some popular patch insulin pumps include:
A tethered pump is more like the traditional insulin pump with the programmable device, the tubing, and the infusion set. It can be clipped onto your belt, bra, or thigh belt, or you can keep it in your pocket.
The tethered pump can last for months or even years with proper care, but you'll need to change the cannula of the infusion set every 2-3 days.
Large Insulin Capacity: Tethered pumps have a larger capacity for storing insulin, making them suitable for individuals whrequiring high insulin doses
Advanced Programming Features: Tethered pumps often have advanced programming features and can be integrated with smartphones, watches, CGMs, and more.
Longer Battery Life: Tethered pumps typically have a longer battery life than patch pumps, reducing the charging frequency and making them more practical for long-term use.
Customizable Alarms: Tethered pumps often include customizable alarms that alert individuals when it's time to take a dose, check their blood glucose levels, or replace the infusion site.
Removable: Unlike a patch pump, a tethered insulin pump can be removed for an hour or so if you need to go swimming or shower, for example.
Size and Weight: Tethered pumps are larger and heavier than patch pumps, which can make them less comfortable to wear and more conspicuous.
Complexity: Tethered pumps are more complex than patch pumps, requiring more training and education to operate effectively.
Higher Cost: Tethered pumps are generally more expensive than patch pumps
Some popular tethered insulin pumps include:
Insulin pumps are relatively expensive if you pay for them yourself. Depending on your chosen type, they can cost from £2000 to £3000.
However, most pumps last from four to eight years, so they might be worth the long-term investment.
You'll also need to purchase other items as part of your insulin pump therapy and for your pump to work, such as the following:
Cannulas and tubing
Dressing, adhesives, and alcohol wipes
Insulin (although it's usually covered by your insurance)
These items, excluding insulin, can cost you an additional £1500 or so per year.
Some of the most popular insulin pump manufacturers include:
These insulin pump brands have a series of models with unique features, customizations, and settings.
Ask your diabetes care team which model would be best for monitoring your blood glucose levels.
Almost anyone taking insulin injections can benefit from insulin pump therapy. However, insulin pumps are much more common with the following individuals:
More flexibility with food: Pumps allow you to adjust your insulin doses to cover spikes in your blood sugar levels according to the food you eat
Accurate insulin doses: Insulin pumps deliver the exact amount of insulin you need into the subcutaneous tissue for optimal absorption
Fewer needles: You don't need to poke yourself with a needle and syringe multiple times daily. Pumps are less irritating to your skin because you don't need to rotate your injection sites to avoid pricking the same sites repeatedly.
Adjustable insulin doses: Pumps allow you to adjust your insulin dose according to your blood sugar levels and your body's response to treatment. They make it easier for a healthcare professional to monitor your progress.
Easier everyday life: Pumps allow you to plan your insulin doses around your life instead of vice versa. If you add a meal, exercise, or change any aspect of your lifestyle, you can adjust your insulin dose accordingly with a button.
Learning curve: Insulin pump therapy requires some initial training and getting used to, which can be easier with the help of your diabetes management team
Risk of DKA: Increased risk of DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis) happens when your body relies on the pump's fast-acting insulin day and night. If the pump malfunctions or anything happens to it, the uncontrolled blood sugar could lead to DKA, which is life-threatening.
Risk of infection: As with any cannula, there's a small risk of infection, which you can minimize by changing every 2-3 days or as your doctor recommends.
Maintenance: Insulin pumps need regular cleaning, monitoring, and maintenance. You might also need to replace some parts every now and then.
Insulin pumps are a convenient and effective way to manage your diabetes. They save you the trouble of being pricked with a needle and syringe multiple times daily, but they're not for everyone.
Hopefully, with the information in this article, you'll be able to decide if the pros outweigh the cons.