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Diabetes health centre

Insulin pumps

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who have type 1 diabetes. It tells you about insulin pumps, a treatment used for type 1 diabetes. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

Yes, probably. If you are an adult with type 1 diabetes, an insulin pump can help you control the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood better than having insulin injections several times a day.

What is it?

An insulin pump supplies your body with a constant stream of insulin. It's also known as continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion (CSII). The pump looks a bit like a pager. It's about the same size and shape as a pack of cards. You can put the pump in your pocket or you can hang it from your belt. You need to keep it with you all the time.

Inside the pump is a store of insulin. It is pumped out through a long tube. You connect the tube to a kind of needle that stays in your skin (a cannula). This gets the insulin into your bloodstream.

You might not like the idea of having something attached to you all the time. But most people get used to it. And you can disconnect the tube for short periods (for example, while you're having a shower, going swimming, getting dressed, or having sex).

For more information, see Insulin therapy.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, the government body that decides which treatments should be available on the NHS, says insulin pumps should be used for children under 12, if it's impractical to give them several injections a day. [57]

NICE says pumps can be used in adults and children over 12 if: [57]

How can it help?

If you use an insulin pump rather than insulin injections: [58] [59] [60] [61] [62]

  • You may have better blood glucose levels. Your haemoglobin A1c level may be lower by about 0.3 to 0.7 percentage points. (Doctors use this blood test to see how well you are controlling your diabetes.)

  • You may enjoy life more

  • You may be less likely to get very low blood glucose (severe hypoglycaemia).

We didn't find any good-quality studies that focused on using insulin pumps to treat children and teenagers, although some of the studies looking at adults also included people under 18.

How does it work?

The pump supplies a steady trickle of insulin into your bloodstream. You can change the programme on the pump according to what you're doing. So, for example, you can give yourself a dose of insulin just before you eat a meal. This can help you control your blood glucose more closely, without needing to give yourself injections.

Some doctors think it may be especially useful for pregnant women, who need to keep a careful watch on their blood glucose. It may also be useful for teenagers who dislike injecting themselves several times a day, but who don't mind testing their blood glucose regularly or dealing with a pump.

Last Updated: March 13, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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