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What Is a Syringe Pump?

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  • Written By: T. Broderick
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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A syringe pump is a medical device that regulates the rate of drug administration through a syringe. Resembling an insulin pump, a syringe pump is much more precise as it delivers medication slowly over a long period of time. Doctors and patients can program a pump through the use of a small computer interface on the device. The pump has a variety of uses from palliative care to saving the lives of newborns. Research labs around the world use larger and more complex syringe pumps to determine the most effective amounts of intravenous medication.

A syringe pump is a combination of mechanical and electronic components that manipulate a standard syringe. As it must accommodate the syringe's length, the smallest syringe pumps are the size of a standard television remote. A small computer controls a continually running motor, the latter applying a continuous force upon the plunger end of the syringe. This continuous administration of a drug differentiates the syringe pump from similar devices such as an insulin pump, the latter only administering insulin when a patient presses certain buttons on the device. After flowing through a short length of plastic tubing, the drug enters the body intravenously.

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Like an insulin pump, a syringe pump features a simple computer interface where a doctor or patient can change the rate at which the device administers the drug. This is an especially effective feature for patients using the device to deliver pain management medication. For example, a patient suffering from the terminal stages of cancer can adjust the amount of pain medication he or she receives on a daily or hourly basis. Having the ability to fine tune one's medication dosage increases a patient's quality of life.

A syringe pump has a host of advantages over other forms of intravenous drug administration. Infants, especially those born premature, may need a variety of medications to survive. Yet their small size requires smaller amounts of medication. A properly programmed syringe pump can accurately administer medication, lowering the chances of an accidental overdose.

Syringe pumps are also a key piece of equipment during medical research. Unlike the portable pumps used by doctors and patients, a pump used for research is larger to accommodate more complex electronic and mechanical parts. Though these features come at a significantly higher cost, they allow researchers to administer medication much more precisely than normal pumps. Higher precision leads to better research data, benefiting future patients.

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