Frequently Asked Questions
Please note: This information is intended as a guide only and does not take the place of professional medical advice. You should see your healthcare professional for advice about the treatment and management of your condition.
All of this information is subject to the specific instructions contained in the Patient Manual received after the implantation of a device. The Patient Manual contains instructions and warnings specific to each particular model, and must be read thoroughly.
How can a pump help my movement disorder?
This therapy, called intrathecal infusion, is a treatment for controlling some movement disorders. It uses a surgically implanted pump and catheter to deliver drug directly to the fluid surrounding the spinal cord. The drug infusion system delivers the medication in small, precisely controlled doses throughout the day, based on the prescription programmed by your doctor.
What makes this therapy different from oral medications is that your medicine is delivered directly to the site where it will be most effective. Unlike oral medications, which circulate throughout the body in the blood, direct delivery only needs comparably tiny amounts of medication to relive even severe spasticity or dystonia. This helps minimise systemic side effects of larger doses, such as weakness, drowsiness, nausea, etc.
What if I have no improvement after the pump is implanted?
Let your doctor know if you are not receiving adequate control of your condition and/or symptoms. If you have a programmable pump, your doctor can reprogram the pump to adjust the amount of medication it delivers. If you have a non-programmable pump, your doctor may need to remove the medication from the pump and refill the pump with a different drug concentration.
How long will it take before I start receiving benefit from my pump?
You will begin receiving therapy as soon as your medication is delivered through the catheter from the pump to the specific site. However, it may take several weeks before you begin to experience benefits from your medication. During this transition period, your doctor may reduce or eliminate your other medication.
What happens if the pump runs out of medication?
Overdose or underdose of the drug used to control spasticity/dystonia is dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Ask your doctor what symptoms you can expect if your pump runs out of medication, or if you stop receiving medication from the pump for any other reason. Also, talk with your doctor about the immediate steps you should take if you stop receiving drug from the pump. In addition to the potential for withdrawal symptoms, the pump may be damaged if it is allowed to run dry. If this occurs, a surgical procedure will be required to replace the damaged pump. It is very important that you do not miss a refill appointment. This may require some planning prior to travelling.
How long does a refill procedure take?
The average time varies from clinic to clinic, depending on their procedures. However, on average, it takes about 30 minutes to refill the pump.
If I have the pump, can I stop taking other medications?
Your doctor will determine whether you still need to take additional medications. Do not make any changes in your current medication without your doctor's knowledge.
What happens when my battery needs to be replaced?
With a totally implantable system, when it is time to have your battery replaced, your doctor will remove the device and replace it with a new device during a surgical procedure.
Can I travel?
Notify your clinic of your travel plans. Your doctor will tell you about any necessary prescription adjustments or when you must return to the clinic. He or she may need to make a referral before your departure. If your pump will need to be refilled while you are away, follow the Find a Physician link on this site to find an appropriate physician closest to where you will be.
Can I have diathermy?
Diathermy is a treatment that heats tissues to reduce swelling and stiffness of joints and muscles, to promote healing of tissue and to reduce pain. It is recommended that shortwave (RF) diathermy not be used within 30cm (12 inches) of the pump or catheter. The effects of other types of diathermy (microwave, ultrasonic, etc.) on the pump are not known. If overheated, a pump may deliver more than the prescribed amount of medication, which may result in overdose. Diathermy may produce a significant temperature increases in the area of the pump and catheter tip. This may cause the area around your pump and catheter tip to feel warm after you complete a diathermy session.
Will my pump set off the metal detector at the airport?
It might. If necessary, present your patient identification card to the airport security personnel for clearance. The metal detector will not interfere with your pump or therapy.
Will I be able to take hot baths or showers?
You should not soak in a hot bath until your surgical stitches have been removed and your incisions are well-healed. Ask your doctor if you can shower following surgery. After your incisions are completely healed, a hot bath of less than 39C (102F) will not interfere with the pump's operation. You should talk with your doctor about other activities that may affect the temperature of the pump.
Should I avoid long-duration airplane flights?
Generally, pumps are not significantly affected by flights in pressurised aircraft. Commercial aircraft are pressurised to an approximate altitude of 1,520 to 2,440 metres (5,000 to 8,000 feet) - which is typically less than the pressure to which you are normally exposed. As a result, the pump may deliver more than the prescribed amount under certain conditions. However, this pressure range will not affect most people with pumps.
In rare instances, if a person lived at sea level and was in an aircraft pressurised to the maximum allowable equivalent of 2,440m, the pump could deliver up to 15 per cent more medication during the flight. However, most people live at an altitude somewhat above sea level, and most aircraft are pressurised to an equivalent altitude of less than 2,440m. Therefore, the potential increase is usually much less than 15 per cent.
You should check with your doctor prior to a long-duration flight to see whether this potential rate increase could have a significant effect.
Can I fly in non-pressurised aircraft?
If you have an implantable pump, you should not go above 2,440m (8,000 feet). This will ensure accurate drug delivery. If you plan to engage in activities above this altitude you should talk with your doctor to determine the effects of receiving more than the prescribed amount of medication. Your doctor can help determine whether you should receive a dose adjustment prior to spending time in a high-altitude environment. At high altitude, the atmospheric pressure is less than at sea level. If the atmospheric pressure decreases significantly, it could cause the pump to temporarily dispense more medication and even result in an overdose.
Can I go in a hot tub, steam room, sauna, or tanning bed?
If the temperature of the hot tub, steam room, sauna, or tanning bed is above 39C (102F), it is not recommended that you use it. The pressure in your pump's reservoir is sensitive to temperature. At a temperature higher than 39C, the reservoir pressure increases. If the increase is significant, the pressure can cause the pump to deliver too much medication. This may lead to a drug overdose.
Will the use of a mobile (cellular) phone affect my pump?
No. Your pump is protected from low-powered stray EMI that is present in a typical mobile phone.
Will a microwave oven affect my pump?
Because microwaves must be shielded, the amount of interference they give off is quite low and will not affect your pump.
What is EMI/RFI?
EMI stands for electromagnetic interference. RFI stands for radio frequency interference. EMI includes all forms of magnetic and electric (known as electromagnetic) fields and RFI includes electromagnetic fields within a specific range of the electromagnetic spectrum. RFI generally consists of higher-frequency EMI (i.e. RFI is a subset of EMI).
Any electrical device can potentially generate and/or be affected by EMI or RFI. The allowable levels of EMI/RFI that a product can generate are controlled by regulatory agencies.
Examples of products that generate EMI are motors from power tools, arc welding, mobile phones, security systems found in retail stores, libraries, airports, etc. Examples of products that generate RFI are garage-door openers, ham and C.B. radios, microwave ovens, cell phones, radio transmitting towers, radios, speakers, antennae, and television dish systems.
How can EMI/RFI affect my pump?
An electronic circuit controls the programmable pump. Large amounts of EMI/RFI could potentially alter information stored in the pump's memory. It may also affect the operation of one or more of the pump's internal components, but it will not damage the device.
The microprocessor inside the programmable pump contains a self-test that checks the pump program a few times a minute. If the pump memory is compromised, this self-test will turn the pump off and sound a memory error alarm. The memory error alarm is a soft, double beep that sounds a few times a minute. If a memory error occurs, the pump will need to be reprogrammed before it will start again. If you hear a memory alarm, see your doctor.
Particular models of the programmable pump also have an internal switch that is activated by a very strong magnet located in the programming head. This switch activates the pump's antenna. The antenna must be activated in order to program the pump. As a result, the switch minimises the possibility of EMI/RFI affecting the pump's memory.
EMI/RFI does not affect the non-programmable pump.
Can I be around industrial equipment?
If you have a programmable pump, your pump may be affected by industrial equipment. Some heavy industrial equipment, such as large motors, magnets, and transformers might produce EMI. EMI may cause the pump to temporarily stop. see What is EMI/RFI? and How can EMI/RFI affect my pump? questions above). The non-programmable pump is not affected by industrial equipment.
If I have a pump, can I also have a pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)?
The programmable pump will not be damaged by therapy pulses from the pacemaker or ICD. However, it is recommended to keep the programming head for the pacemaker or ICD at least 10cm (4 inches) away from the pump to minimise any potential interference. It also is important to keep the programming head of the pump programmer away from the pacemaker or ICD because the programming head contains a large magnet. Most pacemakers and some ICDs respond to a magnet and will change modes if the programming head is placed near the pacemaker or ICD.
An electronic circuit controls the programmable pump. The EMI/RFI emitted from the programmer for an ICD could potentially alter information stored in the pump's memory. It also may directly affect the operation of one or more of the pump's internal components. However, it will not damage the pump.
The microprocessor inside the pump contains a self-test that checks the pump program a few times a minute. If the pump memory is a ffected, this circuit will turn the pump off and sound a memory error alarm. The memory error alarm is a soft, double beep that sounds a few times a minute. If a memory error occurs, the pump will need to be reprogrammed before it will start again. If you hear a pump memory alarm, see your doctor. Your doctor also should verify that the ICD will not respond to the pump programmer.
Non-programmable pumps should not be affected by an ICD.
Can I use a bone growth stimulator?
There are two basic types of bone growth stimulators, external and implantable, which may use several types of fields (electromagnetic and/or ultrasonic). If you have an implantable bone growth stimulator and a programmable pump, it is recommended that your doctor hold the programming head for the bone growth stimulator at least 10cm (4 inches) away from the pump. This will minimise any potential interference. An electronic circuit controls the programmable pump. The EMI/RFI emitted from the programmer for a bone growth stimulator could potentially alter information stored in the pump's memory. It also may directly affect the operation of one or more of the pump's internal components. However, it will not damage the pump.
The microprocessor inside the pump contains a self-test that checks the pump program a few times a minute. If the pump memory is affected, this circuit will turn the pump off and sound a memory error alarm. The memory error alarm is a soft, double beep that sounds a few times a minute. If a memory error occurs, the pump will need to be reprogrammed before it will start again. If you hear a pump memory alarm, see your doctor. Your doctor also should verify that the bone growth stimulator will not respond to the programmable programmer.
The non-programmable pump should not be affected by a bone growth stimulator.
Can I undergo hyperbaric chamber treatment?
If you have an programmable or non-programmable pump without a catheter access port, it is not recommended that you be exposed to greater than 2.3 atmospheres absolute (ATA). Too much pressure could damage the catheter, pump tubing or cause the outer metal shield of the pump to deform. You should talk with your doctor before having hyperbaric chamber therapy because the pump flow rate may be affected while in this environment. This would probably result in a decrease in medication or no medication being delivered while in the hyperbaric chamber. Your doctor will be able to discuss how the decrease in the medication and the physical effects from exposure to high pressure may affect you. If you hear a pump memory alarm, see your doctor.
If you have a programmable pump with a catheter access port, it is not recommended that you be exposed to greater than 3 atmospheres absolute (ATA). The catheter access port contains a valve that minimises damage to the pump tubing from fluid pushing against the pump. However, if the pump is exposed to significant pressure, the outer metal shield of the pump may deform, or damage could occur to the catheter. You should talk with your doctor before having hyperbaric chamber therapy because the pump flow rate may be affected while in this high-pressure chamber. This would probably result in a decrease in medication or no medication being delivered while in this environment. Your doctor will be able to discuss how the decrease in the medication and the physical effects of hyperbaric treatment may affect you. If you hear a pump memory alarm, see your doctor.
Can I have radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy will not affect the non-programmable pump. If you have a programmable pump, it should not be subjected to cumulative radiation therapy in excess of 500 rads. The electronic control circuit in the programmable pump can be damaged by exposure to high-level radiation requiring removal and replacement of the pump. Talk with your doctor about whether radiation therapy is appropriate for you.
Can I have defibrillation/be defibrillated?
The term 'defibrillation' describes a method used to restore normal heart rhythm when a person experiences ventricular fibrillation. Ventricular fibrillation is a twitching of the heart ventricle(s). When ventricular fibrillation occurs, the person loses consciousness because the heart is not pumping blood normally. Immediate medical intervention is required to prevent death. In an attempt to restore the heart to a normal rhythm, medical personnel will use a device called a 'defibrillator.' The defibrillator delivers a strong electrical shock.
Since death typically occurs without immediate care, ventricular defibrillation is usually performed without regard for its potential effects on a medical device or other lasting effects on the person.
Defibrillation has the potential to damage a pump. When defibrillation is necessary, the doctor should minimise the current flowing through the pump by positioning the defibrillator paddles as far from the pump as possible and by using the lowest clinically appropriate energy output (watt seconds). If you have been defibrillated, you should have your device checked following the procedure.
Can I have atrial cardioversion?
The term 'atrial cardioversion' describes a method used to attempt to restore a normal heart rhythm. The condition is not immediately life-threatening. As a result, doctors can usually plan the best approach to limit potential damage to an implanted pump.
The paddles used for cardioversion should not be positioned near the pump. When cardioversion is necessary, doctors should minimise the current flowing through the pump by placing the paddles as far away from the pump as possible and by using the lowest, clinically appropriate energy output (watt seconds). After atrial cardioversion, you should have your pump checked to determine whether it is functioning normally.
Can I have a diagnostic ultrasound?
Although a diagnostic ultrasound should not affect the non-programmable pump, it should not be used directly over the pump.
Can I be near an electric substation?
It is virtually impossible to know the amounts of interference present at a particular substation, and what amount of interference may affect a particular patient. Therefore you should attempt to stay at least 8 metres (25 feet) from a substation to minimise the potential for these effects.
Electric substations can produce large amounts of electromagnetic and radio frequency interference (EMI/RFI). If a change in stimulation occurs, you should move away from the substation until the stimulation returns to normal. If the substation cannot be avoided, the stimulator should be programmed to '0' and turned off prior to approaching the substation again. Exposure to high voltage wires of an electric substation is a potentially dangerous environment.
Can I undergo MRI testing?
Contact your doctor before having MRI performed. Your doctor should discuss the procedure with the MRI staff to determine if it is safe and appropriate for you.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) will cause the programmable pump to temporarily stop and suspend drug infusion during the MRI procedure.
Overdose or underdose of the drug used to control spasticity/dystonia is dangerous and potentially life-threatening.
Can I use power tools?
Experience to date indicates that typical home power tools do not produce strong enough EMI/RFI to affect the operation of implantable pumps. Contact your physician before operating any potentially dangerous equipment.
Are there support groups that my family members and I can attend to talk with other people with pumps?
Our website contains links to various relevant support groups. You may also wish to check with your clinic for possible resources.
How is an intrathecal pump paid for?
If you are an Australian resident or a category of visitor to Australia who is eligible for the Australian Medicare program, this information should apply to you, however, you should talk to your doctor about funding options for the device and associated medical costs.
If you have hospital level private health insurance, the device is considered a prosthesis and generally should be fully funded. You will need to check your policy for any waiting periods, exclusions or excess payments that may be required. The hospital procedure will be funded by Medicare and your private hospital insurance to the amount specified by the Medicare Benefits Schedule. You should check with your doctor about any additional fees and charges.
If your spasticity is due to an accident, you may be eligible for treatment under a compensation scheme such as WorkCover, motor traffic accident compensation arrangements or other insurance. You should check with the appropriate insurance scheme or your doctor about this.
If you do not have hospital level private health insurance and are not eligible for compensation under insurance arrangements, you should be able to receive treatment as a public patient, however, this may incur a waiting period. You should check this with your doctor.
There are provisions to minimise the out-of-pocket medical expenses for Australians. These include the Medicare Safety Net for out-patient procedures, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Safety Net and taxation rebates for medical expenses. You should check with Medicare about these.
Can I undergo MRI testing?
Overdose or underdose of the drug used to control spasticity/dystonia is dangerous and potentially life-threatening.