Insulin Pumps, Explained

So… what’s an insulin pump?

An insulin pump is a small, wearable gadget that can deliver insulin continuously throughout the day and night, often in very small doses. Insulin pumps can help stabilise blood glucose levels.1 

Insulin pumps are an alternative to multiple daily injections (MDI) for people with diabetes.

They are becoming an increasingly popular choice for people with type 1 diabetes, but that doesn’t mean that they suit everyone.

Although insulin pumps eliminate the need for MDI, the recommendation is to still carry a back-up pen or syringe & insulin vial, in case of emergencies.

Different types of insulin pump

There are a few different types of insulin pump. Let’s take a look!

traditional pump traditional pump

Tethered pumps

A tethered pump is sometimes called a tubed pump. It has a thin tube that connects the pump itself - which contains the insulin - to the body via an infusion set with a cannula. Insulin is delivered through the tube, and the pump can be kept in your pocket, or clipped to a belt or bra.

Tubeless pump Tubeless pump

Patch pumps

A patch pump is sometimes called a tubeless or wireless pump. The part that contains the insulin is stuck directly to the skin with adhesive, so there is no connecting tube. You can wear a patch pump almost anywhere you would administer an insulin injection. Insulin dosing is remotely programmed from a separate device a bit like a remote control.


How does an insulin pump work?

A continuous amount of insulin is delivered 24 hours a day through a cannula placed under the skin. This is known as a basal dose, but it’s sometimes called background insulin.

Additional insulin is delivered for meals and blood glucose corrections - these are known as bolus doses.2

Traditional pumps

Tubed pump Tubed pump

Tubeless pumps

tubeless pump tubeless pump

Insulin pumps can help you calculate your bolus dose (yay!). These will be based on a combination of your personal settings, glucose reading and the carbohydrate values for any food you’re eating.

You only need one type of insulin with an insulin pump, commonly known as fast-acting insulin. This is used for both your basal and bolus doses.

A bit more about basal rates

Let’s talk about bolus insulin

Pumps and CGMs - What’s the deal?

Insulin pump technology is moving - fast! Which is great news for people with diabetes.

Some insulin pumps can integrate with certain continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) to continuously adapt and automatically deliver basal insulin according to your personal needs.

This is what’s known as an Automated Insulin Delivery System (AID), which you may know as a Hybrid Closed-Loop System (HCL).

We’ll look at this in more detail in a different module.

Frequently Asked Questions about Insulin Pumps

Who qualifies for an insulin pump?

Are insulin pumps painful?

Can I shower with an insulin pump?

Do you sleep with an insulin pump?

Do I still need both types of insulin?

How much does it cost?

It all sounds pretty good so far, doesn’t it? But choices around diabetes management are very personal, and people may look for different features in an insulin pump. The Diabetes Technology Network (DTN) provides some information on the key considerations around pump therapy.


Next up...

Let’s get more into the specifics of how the Tubeless Omnipod® Systems work. Rather than “Pump therapy” we call it “Tubeless, Pod Therapy”

These modules are not a replacement for medical advice or training. Please always speak to a qualified healthcare professional about your options.

References and disclaimers:
The information and other content provided in this article, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. If you or any other person has a medical question or concern, you should consult with your health care provider. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that have read on this blog or in any linked materials. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or emergency services immediately. The opinions and views expressed on this blog and website have no relation to those of any academic, hospital, health practice or other institution.

2- Walsh, J, Roberts, R. Pumping Insulin. 6th ed. Torrey Pines Press. 2017.