Insulin Pump Safety a Concern Among Youths

A federal review of insulin pump use by adolescents over a period of 10 years found that 13 deaths and more than 1,500 injuries were connected with the pumps.

A report released by the Associated Press recently indicated that the use of insulin pumps by teenagers stricken with Type 1 diabetes is risky and has been linked to injuries and even fatalities.

Researchers from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are instructing parents to more closely monitor the use of the insulin pumps in their children and stress that safety concerns need to be addressed. A federal review of use by adolescents over a period of 10 years found that 13 deaths and more than 1,500 injuries were connected with the pumps, due mainly to product malfunction and misuse. In rare instances, suicide was the result of overdosage by teens using the pumps.

The pumps are popular because they allow young people to give themselves insulin discreetly in public and maintain their independence. With more than $1.3 billion in annual sales worldwide, they are fast becoming a more common approach to diabetes care. The pumps are used for those with Type 1 diabetes, which accounts for about 5 to 10 percent of all diabetes cases and used to be called “juvenile diabetes.” The more common form is Type 2, which is often linked to obesity and more often affects adults.

Type 1 affects an estimated 12 million to 24 million people worldwide and occurs when the body attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Insulin regulates blood sugar levels, which when too high, can lead to heart disease, blindness and kidney damage.

Insulin pumps are the size of a cell phone and worn on a belt or pocket. They send insulin into the body through a plastic tube with a small tip that inserts under the skin and is taped in place and cost about $6,000 with supply costs running approximately $250 a month. Fortunately, most health insurance companies cover a majority of the cost.

Users must tell the device how much insulin to give before each meal, based on the estimated carbohydrates in the meal. The devices also deliver a continuous low level of insulin. The devices provide an alternative to multiple daily injections of insulin by syringe; some come with glucose monitors that reduce the number of times the finger must be pricked to test blood sugar.