Swimming while wearing an insulin pump

Swimming can be a great way to cool off in the summer, but is it safe to bring your insulin pump into the water?

Summer is here, and it’s a great time for outside activities like swimming and boating. For individuals with diabetes who wear an insulin pump, what are precautions about swimming? Is it safe to wear the device in the water? Let’s take a basic look at how insulin pumps work and how they attach to the body.

The insulin pump

Insulin pumps deliver rapid-acting insulin into the body. Insulin pumps simulate the function of a healthy pancreas. Pumps hold a reservoir of insulin to be calibrated to individual’s dosage needs. Inside the pump, a tiny computer and a motor that activates/pushes the insulin into the body. Pumps monitor glucose both day and night. The pump itself is a device about the size of a deck of cards. It resembles a cell phone with a screen face and buttons. Most pumps are battery operated.

There are different types of insulin pumps and different ways insulin can be delivered (infused) into the body. Michigan State University Extension recommends the best starting point before any physical activity is to talk with your healthcare provider and diabetes educator. Likewise, always follow the (pump) manufactures directions. The newest pumps are watertight (3 feet for 30 minutes), if not waterproof (12 feet for 60 minutes).

Infusion set

Pumps require an infusion set to deliver the insulin from the pump into the body. The insulin is infused through a thin plastic tube called a cannula. A narrow plastic tube is inserted under the skin and held in place with tape. This small tube can be easily disconnected and reconnected to your body for swimming or other vigorous activity. Pumps can be worn on the belt or inside a pocket

Swimming with an insulin pump

Most insulin pumps will need to be disengaged while swimming. Considerations for disengaging include:

  • Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions to determine the degree to which the pump is water tight or waterproof. Pumps that are waterproof can be left in place.
  • Non-waterproof pumps can be damaged by moisture. Waterproof cases can be helpful.
  • Make sure your infusion set is securely taped in place.
  • Check your blood glucose before you swim. Swimming is considered a vigorous, physical activity. Exercise or physical activity will lower blood glucose (sugar). Knowing your blood sugar level and acting upon it before you engage in the activity is important.
  • Before you swim, give it a dry run through. Learn what to expect and how your body reacts when you disconnect our pump.
  • Sometimes the adhesive used for the Infusion set can become loose in the water. To help make it more secure consider wearing a lightweight wetsuit/scuba top or t-shirt to cover the infusion site, and cover the site with a large waterproof bandage.
  • Check your blood glucose every half hour while swimming. Continue monitoring readings throughout the day after swimming to accurately manage your diabetes.

For more guidelines on insulin pumps, visit the Joslin Diabetes Center or the American Diabetes Association. To learn more about diabetes self-management programs and articles, visit Michigan State University Extension.

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