Wednesday, July 18, 2012


So I got an excellent question the other day (thanks Bun) that hadn't even crossed my mind to write about:  how do I go swimming or take showers with my insulin pump?

Well, I don't. I don't swim or bathe while wearing the pump.  The pump is like any other non-waterproof electronic that runs off of a battery - it mechanically fails when it gets wet.  Given that I am fully dependent on it functioning... water and the pump just don't mix.

To work around this, the designers of insulin pumps understand that diabetics need to bathe and that some of the weird ones (obviously does not include me) even like this strange concept of swimming, so they created a quick release at the infusion site to disconnect the pump and tubing from the cannula.   This leaves the port in the skin until an infusion change is medically required (every two to three days), but allows the diabetic to remove the pump as necessary.

My current infusion site with the "male plug" inserted in
it; the red spots above the site are from previous cannulas -
the sites take a quite while to heal.

I can't speak to the exact set up of all insulin pumps, but what Medtronic does is provide a male and female "plug" for the pump tubing.  The female part of the plug attaches to the tubing and covers the needle while it is disconnected from the infusion site.  The male plug is inserted into the infusion site to cover the exposed end of the cannula - this prevents water, soap, whatever really from getting into the cannula and therefore your system.

The disconnected tubbing and the "female cover"
So that should cover the logistics of taking it off to be in water, now on to the consequences... well as I have explained else where, the pump delivers both a basal insulin (background insulin) and a programmed bolus of insulin to cover food.  With it disconnected, the body doesn't receive any insulin and the longer this goes on the higher a diabetic's blood sugar will go.  Without ingesting more carbs, blood sugars shouldn't go up quickly, but if the pump is left off for more than say 30 minutes BGs will progressively go up with the body's natural hormone production cycle.  It's not the end of the world to let your sugars go up temporarily in order to have fun and swim (did I just use "fun" and "swim" in the same sentence?), but if you're pregnant or sick, it's generally not worth the risk.

One additional interesting thing to point out about the use of artificial insulin and water is that a diabetic should not take a shower or bath in hot water until all of the active insulin in their system is depleted.  The reason for this is that hot water, like exercise, increases the efficiency of insulin and can cause hypoglycemia.  Since this should be avoided whenever possible, I guess that old rule of "no swimming after eating" actually has a bit of credibility.

Fair enough? Make sense? ... Marco?

Thank you so so much for the question!! And, please, if any reader has a question go ahead and shoot it my way in an email or just post a response/comment.  I'm more than happy to tailor future posts to people's interests or curiosities!


  1. Go to to learn about the pump I use. There is no disconnecting because the disposable pods are waterproof. Check it out!!

  2. Thanks Tony! Like I said, I'm only personally familiar with Medtronic so it is very interesting to learn about the other pumps out there. Whatever input you have as very welcome and appreciated :)