Most insulin pumps today deliver insulin from the pump to your body through an infusion set. Thin, clear tubing attaches to the pump and connects to a needle or flexible cannula inserted under your skin and held in place with adhesive. Though all available infusion sets are pretty similar, there are some differences you’ll want to note—specifically, the way the tubing connects to the pump, the type and angle of the needle or cannula, where the tubing disconnects, and how you insert the infusion set. Read on for more about these important details.
The majority of infusion sets on the market affix to pumps using Luer-lock connectors, a method of attaching the tubing to the pump’s insulin reservoir. As long as your pump has a Luer-lock connection, you can use any Luer lock–capable infusion set. Other pumps, however, use their own connection type to attach the tubing to the reservoir, and you’ll need to use that pump’s brand of infusion sets.
When it comes to what makes an infusion set sit comfortably in and under the skin, people’s preferences are varied. Some prefer a straight 90-degree insertion while others find angled insertions more comfortable. Some like to use stainless-steel needles; others prefer flexible plastic cannulas, which are inserted under the skin with the assistance of a needle that then retracts, leaving only the cannula in place. The type of infusion set you choose will depend on a variety of things, such as the thickness of fat on your abdomen (very thin people may prefer angled cannulas) and your activity level (do you play sports that make it more likely you’ll dislodge a needle?). A certified diabetes educator can help you decide what’s best for you.
For certain activities, such as bathing or swimming, you may want to temporarily disconnect from your pump for a bit while leaving your needle or cannula in place. Infusion set tubing disconnects in one of two places: at or away from the site. Tubing that disconnects “at the site” releases from a plastic connector attached to the adhesive pad holding the needle or cannula under the skin. When the tubing is removed, all that remains is the needle or cannula and adhesive. Infusion sets that disconnect “away from the site,” however, detach a couple of inches from the needle or cannula, leaving a tail of tubing anchored by a second adhesive pad. This “breakaway” feature makes it less likely you’ll dislodge the needle or cannula if you accidentally drop the pump while it’s attached (known jokingly as “bungee pumping”).
There are two ways you can insert an infusion set: by manually slipping a needle under your skin and smoothing the adhesive pad on your skin to hold the needle or cannula in place, or by using an insertion device that injects the needle or cannula with the push of a button. Insertion devices are particularly useful for people with needle phobia or dexterity problems.