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We plan to take our three year old child (Type 1) on a couple of trips over the next few months; both by airplane. The strategy for re-scheduling blood tests / shots due to time zone changes seems to be well documented (e.g., I've seen articles in your Diabetes Monitor) but I cannot find any articles on the impact of change in pressure altitude, such as would be experienced in an aircraft (I believe they pressurize at 15,000 ft). I understand from friends who have travelled with their Insulin Dependant family members that the change in pressure leads to elevated blood glucose levels, but would appreciate confirmation of that, and any feedback you may have as to whether the impact is quantifiable..... or is it best to monitor the levels in-flight and react with R-insulin accordingly?

Some of the flights will be TransAtlantic, approx 9.5 hours, so the "time at altitude" is significant. Some of the flights will be shorter, approx 5 hrs.

I will appreciate any advice that you can offer.

Don't automatically blame the diabetes... we're unaware of the diabetes itself being influenced by flying, unless stress raised the blood sugar (see previous question for more discussion about the effects of stress on raising sugar levels).

But, airplane partial pressurization at high altitudes seems to affect the performance of the blood glucose meters. There are also some published reports that meter capabilities are affected at altitudes like the Rocky Mountain elevations in the western U.S. And, according to some patients, airplane partial pressurization while flying may affect the performance of some meters more than others.

We advised our patients and parents to keep the sugar at "safe levels," usually around 100-200 mg/dl, during flights, and to check with the meter manufacturer at the 800 number on the meter, to see what the customer service people might say.

Original posting 18 Jan 96


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Last Updated: Tuesday April 06, 2010 15:08:52
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