Infusion Sets 101
6 features to note before buying
The beauty of the insulin pump is that you can continuously deliver medication—without repeated injections. But for that to happen, insulin must get from your pump’s reservoir to your blood. And for that, you need an infusion set.
While one pump uses a pod that sticks directly to the skin, most require tubing that connects you with your pump. This tubing is part of what’s known as an infusion set. But although most sets look the same, there are slight variations that can mean the difference between comfort and irritation, convenience and a hassle.
So, how do you determine which infusion set is right for you? Read on for the top features to focus on.
Locked and Loaded
All infusion sets connect to a pump’s reservoir and lock into place to avoid leaks. Most pumps use standard Luer-lock connections, which means they work with any Luer lock–capable infusion set—and that’s most of them. Some pumps, however, use a different type of connector, so you’ll have to use their specific brand of infusion set.
Under Your Skin
Insulin travels from your pump reservoir, through the tubing, and under your skin via a stainless steel needle or flexible plastic cannula, which is inserted under the skin using an introducer needle that is removed. Which you pick is a matter of personal preference. To avoid infection, irritation, or scarring that may affect how insulin is absorbed, sets should be changed every two to three days, rotating to new patches of skin. The abdomen typically is the best infusion site zone, but people also wear insertion sets on their hips and buttocks, outer thighs, and upper arms.
The Right Fit
Both needles and cannulas differ among infusion sets in terms of their insertion angle, length, and gauge (thickness). There’s no right or wrong when it comes to these features, but it’s important to take your body and activity level into account. For instance, a very thin person or child may prefer a needle or cannula at a shallow 45-degree angle while others may find a 90-degree angle more comfortable. And if one style of infusion set isn’t comfortable or pulls out easily, don’t be afraid to try another. Your health care provider can help you determine which features best support your lifestyle.
Location, Location, Location
There are times when you’ll want to disconnect from your pump without removing your infusion set, such as when bathing or swimming. Tubing detaches in one of two places. Those that disconnect “at the site” separate from a plastic connector close to the adhesive pad that holds the needle or cannula in place under the skin. What’s left behind is the needle or cannula, adhesive, and, sometimes, a small tail of tubing. Infusion sets that detach “away from the site” disconnect farther from the insertion site so there’s a longer tail of tubing (and, for some sets, an extra adhesive pad) left behind. This is especially useful for people with dexterity problems who may accidentally tug the needle or cannula free while disconnecting closer to the insertion site.
Ready to Inject
You have two options for inserting an infusion set: manual (by sliding a needle or cannula under your skin and pressing down on the adhesive so the set sticks to your skin) or with an insertion device. Though they differ slightly, all insertion devices inject a needle or cannula under the skin with a press of a button. People with dexterity problems or those with needle phobia may find insertion devices particularly useful.
The Long and Short of It
Tubing length is an important feature to consider when picking an infusion set. The length you need will depend on where you plan to insert your needle or cannula and where you wear your pump so the tubing doesn’t stretch too taut. Height matters, too: A tall man, for instance, will require a longer tube than a child.