Blood Sugar Monitors That Communicate With Insulin Pumps

If you have recently been diagnosed with diabetes, you may be learning about continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) and insulin pumps for monitoring and managing your blood sugar.

You may also have heard about CGM and insulin pumps that pair together. This system allows your insulin pump to adjust its insulin delivery in real time according to values you set with your doctor. This is known as sensor-augmented pump (SAP) therapy.

This article discusses the benefits of insulin pumps that pair with CGMs. It also includes a comparison chart with the different devices available, along with troubleshooting tips you might need when pairing them.

Young girl uses CGM to manage diabetes

FatCamera / Getty Images

Managing Your Blood Sugar

Managing your type 1 or type 2 diabetes starts with monitoring your blood sugar. Two types of devices are used to monitor blood sugar:

  • A glucometer, which uses a finger prick sample of your blood to measure your blood sugar
  • A continuous glucose monitor, which automatically tests your interstitial glucose level—the glucose in the fluid between your cells—every few minutes

All people with type 1 diabetes and some people with type 2 diabetes also need to take insulin to manage their blood sugar levels. There are two options for administering insulin:

  • One or more insulin injections given daily using a needle or pen
  • An insulin pump that delivers insulin through a thin tube, under your skin and into your bloodstream

CGMs have become more common among people who take insulin therapy. CGMs keep a close tab on your blood sugar for you, and they will alert you with an alarm or smartphone app when your blood sugar is increasing, decreasing, or stable.

Using Sensor Augmented Pump Therapy

Sensor augmented pump therapy offers another level of convenience that can further streamline your diabetes care strategy and give you more control over your blood sugar.

Here's how SAP works:

  1. To get started, you and your doctor will work together to program your SAP with preset values that tell your insulin pump when to slow or resume insulin delivery.
  2. Next, you will attach a glucose sensor to your skin. Its needle goes under your skin and is then removed so that just the sensor remains.
  3. The sensor will continuously monitor your interstitial glucose levels and send readings about your blood sugar to your smartphone app.
  4. When your glucose sensor detects that your blood sugar is approaching one of your preset values, the insulin pump will suggest a change in your insulin dose or automatically adjust your insulin accordingly.

The constant communication between your CGM and insulin pump can help protect you against sudden spikes in your blood sugar. SAP isn't 100% autonomous, though; you will still need to manually control insulin delivery at mealtime.

Benefits of Communication

SAP therapy drastically reduces the risks of hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia, because it enables your CGM to automatically alert your insulin pump when it should reduce or resume insulin delivery.

The practical and medical benefits of SAP therapy are well-documented. Numerous studies have shown that SAP is effective at keeping blood sugar low while also reducing the risk of hypoglycemia.

Furthermore, SAP therapy has shown itself to improve long-term health outcomes. For example, in one study, people who took SAP therapy lived an average of nearly four years longer than people who only took daily insulin injections.

The study also showed that, although SAP therapy costs more than multiple daily insulin injections, people who used SAP were less likely to have diabetes-related complications like heart or kidney disease. As a result, the overall financial burden of their medical care was lower than those who didn't use SAP.

SAP has psychological and social benefits for many users too. This was demonstrated in a 2013 study of 334 adults and 147 children with diabetes, some of whom used SAP while others continued their daily insulin injections.

While the children in this study mostly benefited from the convenience of SAP therapy, the adults reported that SAP had a positive impact on their social lives and gave them more freedom in their day-to-day activities.

CGM Compatible Pumps

SAP therapy with CGM compatible insulin pumps offers several advantages, including:

  • With SAP, you get real-time data about your glucose levels, often via a discreet smartphone app
  • Some insulin pump and CGM pairs can predict when your glucose will rise or fall and adjust insulin delivery in advance
  • Pairing is effective at preventing hypoglycemia, especially at times when you are asleep or unable to check your blood sugar
  • CGMs eliminate the need for finger pricking, making them a great option for children
  • CGMs allow parents and caregivers to monitor their child's blood sugar remotely while the child is away at school, camp, or a friend's house

As of mid-2021, there are four CGM compatible insulin pumps available on the market:

Insulin Pump Size & Weight Basal Range Bolus Range CGM Pair Hybrid Closed Loop Details
Tandem t:slim X2 Pump with Basal-IQ Technology 3.13 x 2 x 0.6 inches and 3.95 ounces with battery and full reservoir From 0.1 to 15 units per hour in 0.001-unit increments From 0.05 to 25 units in 0.01-unit increments with an option for up to an additional 25 units Dexcom G6 No Basal-IQ predicts glucose levels and adjusts basal insulin delivery accordingly. No fingersticks.
Tandem t:slim X2 Pump with Control-IQ Technology 3.13 x 2 x 0.6 inches and 3.95 ounces with battery and full reservoir From 0.1 to 15 units per hour in 0.001-unit increments From 0.05 to 25 units in 0.01-unit increments with an option for up to an additional 25 units Dexcom G6 Yes Control-IQ predicts glucose levels and automatically adjusts basal insulin delivery when it expects glucose to spike. No fingersticks.
Medtronic MiniMed 630G 2.1 x 3.81 x 0.98 inches and 3.7 ounces not including battery or full reservoir From 0.025 to 35 units per hour in 0.025-unit increments for up to 0.975 units. Increments of 0.05 units for between 1 and 9.95 units. Increments of 0.1 units for 10 units or more. From 0.025 to 25 units. Increments of 0.025 units Guardian Sensor 3 No MiniMed uses SmartGuard technology to stop insulin delivery for up to 2 hours when glucose reaches a preset low value and the user doesn’t react to a low-glucose alarm. Requires fingersticks for calibration.
Medtronic MiniMed 770G 2.1 x 3.78 x 0.96 inches and 3.7 ounces not including battery or full reservoir From 0.025 to 35 units per hour in 0.025-unit increments for up to 0.975 units. Increments of 0.05 units for between 1 and 9.95 units. Increments of 0.1 units for 10 units or more. From 0.025 to 25 units. Increments of 0.025, 0.05, and 0.1 units Guardian Sensor 3 Yes Automatically adjusts basal insulin delivery in response to CGM glucose readings. Users can turn on SmartGuard technology to automatically adjust insulin delivery when glucose approaches preset values. Requires fingersticks for calibration.

Of the four CGM-paired insulin pumps available, there are two automated insulin delivery (AID) systems: Tandem's t:slim X2 insulin pump with Control-IQ technology, and Medtronic's MiniMed 770G.

AID systems are also known as hybrid closed loop systems because they function somewhat like an artificial pancreas. Each AID system consists of a CGM that predicts when glucose levels could drop and an insulin pump that automatically adjusts to keep glucose stable.

The FDA is expected to approve a third AID system by Insulet—known as the Omnipod 5—by the end of 2021. Unlike the t:slim X2 and the MiniMed 770G, the Omnipod 5 will be the first tubeless AID, combining the Omnipod patch pump with the Dexcom G6 CGM.

Is a CGM Right For You?

CGMs are especially beneficial for people who have trouble reaching or maintaining their target blood sugar, and people who often have glucose “lows” without realizing it. CGMs are also great for people whose sleep quality is affected by highs or lows or anxiety about them.

Encountering Problems

Switching from a glucometer to a CGM can take some getting used to. Even if you have experience with a CGM already, you still might have to do some troubleshooting when it comes to pairing.

If your pump won’t stay connected to your transmitter, there are a couple things you can try before giving the product's manufacturer a call:

You might be too far from your phone: If you’re using a smartphone app that communicates with your transmitter, you’ll need to keep your phone close—otherwise your insulin pump could disconnect.

Your pump and transmitter might not “see” each other: Your transmitter needs to be located on the same same side of your body within view of each other for them to connect. Make sure there are no body parts or clothing items blocking them from communicating.

It might be time for a new transmitter: For example, Dexcom transmitters are only in warranty for 90 days and will stop working after 112 days. Keep track of expiry dates and order replacements well before they expire.

Your transmitter may not be placed properly: Check to see that your transmitter is snapped securely into your sensor pod. You may have to wriggle it around some before it clicks into place.

You may have more than one transmitter connected: Only one transmitter can connect to your insulin pump at a time. Go through your settings and double check that you haven’t connected any other transmitters.

You might have pressed airplane mode: Find airplane mode and make sure that it’s turned off. This can easily happen with insulin pumps that have particularly sensitive touch screens.

Your pump may need new batteries: Keep at least one extra set of batteries in your purse, kit, car, and home in case you need to change them.

After trying any of these tips, give your devices some time to reconfigure and find each other. You may need to wait up to 15 minutes between each attempt to see if they reconnect.

If at any point your insulin pump sirens or shows a “critical error” message, remove the insulin pump immediately. Contact your healthcare provider right away so they can get insulin to you with another method, then call the insulin pump’s manufacturer for further instructions.

Summary

SAP therapy offers many medical and practical benefits for adults and children alike. Having your insulin pump paired to your CGM makes tracking your blood sugar in real-time more convenient and can help you sleep better at night.

CGM-compatible insulin pumps and hybrid closed-loops systems aren’t completely autonomous. They still require you to manually control insulin delivery at mealtime. And while you won’t have to use finger sticks as much, you may still want or need them to calibrate your devices and verify your glucose readings.

A Word From Verywell

Diabetes care technology is constantly evolving and creating more opportunities for you to find the perfect system for your needs. Unfortunately, many insurance providers aren't progressing quite as fast.

In terms of CGMs and paired insulin pumps, your insurance provider may not foot the bill if you are already managing your diabetes well with a glucometer and insulin injections. Before you make any purchases, make sure you clear it with your doctor and insurance provider.

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Article Sources
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