Flying With Diabetes

For many people with diabetes — especially those who use insulin[1] — sticking to a routine is very important to blood glucose[2] control. This can mean eating meals at about the same time each day, and even choosing from a limited selection of foods so that the body’s response to a meal will be more predictable. So it’s no surprise that long-distance travel — especially flying — presents a challenge to many people who use insulin.

This challenge was made clear in a recent survey, presented earlier this month[3] at the American Diabetes Association’s 76th Scientific Sessions in New Orleans. For the survey, 503 adults with Type 1 diabetes[4] who belonged to the online community Glu were asked 45 questions about their travel experiences. Among these participants, 70% were men, and the average age was 44. While 71% of participants reported having flown “long-haul” — across multiple time zones — in the last five years, these flights tended to bring a number of hassles.

Overseas travel was particularly difficult, with 74% of participants reporting an increase in high or low blood glucose[5] episodes while traveling abroad. In addition, 22% reported running out of insulin during an overseas trip, and 9% reported avoiding international travel because of their diabetes, as noted in a MedPage Today article on the study[6]. (That article notes that according to one estimate, 2% of all in-flight medical emergencies are related to diabetes.)

The survey also found that traveling with insulin pumps[7] was difficult, due to both the devices themselves and the security screening associated with flying. One in 10 participants believed that their pump worked less reliably during a flight, and pump users reported more problems getting through security than those who don’t wear pumps (overall, 44% of participants reported problems going through security). Even though some pump manufacturers recommend removing a pump before going through airport security — not a task that many people find pleasant — 42% of pump users reported wearing their devices in airport body scanners.

How does this survey compare with your experiences — have you had problems related to your diabetes while flying or on a trip away from home? If you wear a pump or carry insulin with you, do you sometimes experience hassles when going through security as a result? Have you ever had an unusual episode of high or low blood glucose while traveling, or run out of insulin on a trip? What, if anything, can or should be done to make travel for people with diabetes easier? Leave a comment below!

  1. insulin:
  2. glucose:
  3. presented earlier this month:!/4008/presentation/43596
  4. Type 1 diabetes:
  5. low blood glucose:
  6. article on the study:
  7. insulin pumps:

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