Insulin Pumps Might Get Smarter

Insulin pump feature can prevent abnormally low levels of blood sugar during the night

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Dominique Brooks, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) As diabetes treatment and monitoring has improved, life has become slightly easier for many diabetes patients. Now, one new upgrade to insulin pumps could make nighttime blood sugar control a little easier.

Blood sugar monitors today can automatically check patients' blood sugar levels, and insulin pumps can recognize how much insulin a patient needs and then deliver the correct dose.

Such devices are continually being fine-tuned by companies to make them safer and more effective. According to a recent study, a new feature added to an insulin pump may lower the occurrence of low blood sugar levels in the night.

Results of this study suggest that a feature known as "threshold suspend" can warn patients and stop delivering insulin to avoid dangerously low blood sugar levels.

"Ask your doctor about advances in diabetes treatment."

This study was conducted by Richard M. Bergenstal, MD, executive director of the International Diabetes Center at Park Nicollet Health Services in Minneapolis, and colleagues.

The aim of this study was to see if the new threshold suspend feature of the MiniMed brand of insulin pumps could prevent blood sugar levels from lowering to dangerous levels in diabetes patients during the night.

Insulin pumps work by automatically pumping insulin into the bloodstream which then prevents the rise of blood sugar levels in diabetes patients. But sometimes, insulin given in the night can cause hypoglycemia, or excessive lowering of blood sugar, which is harmful to the body.

"Hypoglycemia can be catastrophic for people with diabetes, especially at night when patients are likely to be unaware of symptoms because they are asleep," said Dr. Bergenstal in a press release associated with the study.

The threshold suspend feature warns the patient and stops the delivery of insulin temporarily when blood sugar starts falling. The patient can then restart the insulin pump anytime.

The researchers looked at 247 diabetes patients who had reported abnormally low levels of blood sugar during the night. Of these patients, 121 received a pump with the threshold suspend feature and 126 received a pump without the feature.

Levels of HbA1c were measured to confirm that the device was safe to use. HbA1c levels indicate a patient’s average blood sugar levels over the past three months. In this study, this number did not vary significantly between the two groups.

The researchers found that hypoglycemia during the night occurred 31.8 percent less frequently in patients who had the threshold suspend feature in their pumps. Lower numbers of these events showed that the devices were working well to prevent drops in blood sugar levels.

No serious harmful events were reported in the threshold suspend group during the study.

Overall, the study results showed that the new threshold suspend feature of MiniMed pumps reduced hypoglycemia during the night and did not have any negative effects on the long term control of diabetes.

"As insulin pumps that automatically check blood sugar levels become more popular, it is important to find ways to prevent any hypoglycemia in these patients," Alexandra Reimann, ND, of Valhalla Wellness and Medical Center told dailyRx News. 

"These findings may allow people who used a pump in the past but had trouble with low blood sugars at night or people who were concerned about that risk to give the technology a try. Patients with diabetes can talk to their primary care or diabetes physician about whether this is a good option for them," said Dr. Reimann.

The study was funded by Medtronic, the company that makes MiniMed insulin pumps.

The results of the study were published June 22 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Review Date: 
June 27, 2013
Last Updated:
September 6, 2013