The Cortisol pump has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of patients with adrenal insufficiency. All current research studies indicate improvements in patient quality of life. With results like that, the pump seems like magic, right?
My own experience with the cortisol pump has been dramatic and highly successful. Positive patient testimonials such as mine, make others suffering with poor quality of life think the pump is the solution to all of their woes.
While I have raved about the merits of the pump, I’ve also been honest about how difficult it has been, and that pumping alone hasn’t fixed everything, nor did any of these changes come quickly.
I am not writing this to discourage anyone from using the cortisol pump. Personally, I love it, and I want this treatment to be an option for every adrenal insufficient patient. However, I don’t want to mislead anyone. I want patients to have a realistic idea of what pumping entails so they can make an educated decision about their treatment.
5 Reasons NOT to Get a Cortisol Pump!
1. You feel great on steroid pills.
This was never the case for me, and I don’t come across a whole lot of people that do, but there really are some patients out there that get by just fine on oral steroids. For these patients, it would not be worth the time and effort to switch to a pump and it would not be worth the extra work and expense to maintain it.
2. You are not a self advocate.
This is still an uncommon and relatively new treatment, (cortisol pumps have been in use about 13 years.) It’s likely you’ll have to search for a doctor that supports this treatment, and even when you find one, there is a good chance they will have very little to no experience with cortisol pumping. If you cannot gather research yourself, present your case to the doctor, be prepared to be rejected, and be willing to try again…it’s not going to work out. Even when you start the pump, you will have better success if you can work along with the doctor to keep track of your own symptoms and adjust your own delivery rates accordingly. You will never be able to just sit back and let someone else do this for you. If you’re not a persistent self-advocate, this is not the treatment for you.
3. Pills are too much hassle.
Yes, pills are a huge hassle. It’s terribly inconvenient to take pills 3-8 times daily. Yes, it’s annoying having alarms going off all the time for meds, and yes it totally sucks having to wake up in the middle of the night for doses.
You would think the pump is more convenient with it’s preset schedule and continuous delivery, and most of the time it is. However, the pump is not something you just set and forget. You will have to use syringes to mix Solu-cortef and refill your cartriges. You will have to change out your inset at least every 3 days following strict sanitation procedures. True, that’s better than taking pills every few hours every single day of your life, but there will be times your pump maintenance doesn’t go as planned. You might get a low units alarm at night when you just want to sleep. You might find yourself with a failed infusion set when you’re out in public. While these aren’t huge problems, it will take a bit more effort to fix than just swallowing another pill. My point is, if pump therapy seems appealing to you because of the convenience- you will be disappointed. Pumping ain’t easy! It’s totally doable, just know what you’re getting into before taking the plunge!
4. You’re afraid of needles.
Pump therapy involves inserting a Cannula into your skin with a small needle. It’s nearly painless when done correctly, but if this sounds like more than you can handle, then the pump isn’t for you. You should also know that the pump is ABSOLUTELY NOT AN ALTERNATIVE TO YOUR EMERGENCY INJECTION! You cannot rely on your pump to infuse 100mgs or more at a time. This will almost assuredly cause your infusion site to fail, which could make an emergency situation even worse. Even if you could infuse all 100mgs without it leaking, subcutaneous absorbtion will be slower than intramuscular. Also, there’s a chance you won’t even have 100mgs in your cartridge to deliver. So don’t think getting a pump will mean you never need an emergency injection.
5. You don’t want to talk to your insurance company.
Even if you’re willing to pay out of pocket for a pump or buy one second hand, you are going to have to contact your insurance company at some point. While the cost of a infusion pump brand new is thousands of dollars, the monthly Solu-Cortef can be the most costly item depending on your insurance coverage. You’ll want to know your DME benefits, be familiar with your prescription plan’s formulary list, and most importantly don’t be afraid to call and ask questions! Ask ask ask! Find out exactly what they can and can’t do, find out how to have an exception made, or how to appeal a decision. Don’t expect your insurance company to get everything right and work it all out for you, but at the same time, don’t just assume they won’t help at all. You don’t know until you try!
I encourage anyone with adrenal insufficiency, suffering with poor quality of life, to look into subcutaneous hydrocortisone infusion therapy. It has really changed my life for the better, but it has been an indescribable amount of work. Even when you start on the cortisol pump, the battle isn’t over. You will have to learn strategies to manage it…by yourself. You will have to ensure you always have a steady supply of Solu-Cortef and pump supplies, even when your insurance and financial situations change. You’ll have to be prepared to deal with unexpected maintenance and mishaps, handle them the best you can, and just keep on going. It helps to be strong willed, assertive, and stubborn. You will have to be resourceful and adaptive. There are times even the strongest, most resilient pumpers I know will get frustrated and want to quit, but ultimately, all of the work is worth it. We take a deep breath, pick ourselves up and keep pumping.