Flying may disrupt insulin pump function, study suggests

Air travel is tough on everyone, but this may be particularly true of individuals with type 1 diabetes. Aside from the facts that there are few nutritious foods available at airports and getting testing supplies through security may be difficult, new research suggests that changes in atmospheric pressure while on the plane may upset insulin pumps.

This may not be a problem for everyone with type 1 diabetes, as relatively few people use insulin pumps. But for those who do, understanding the risk could be important for ensuring a safe trip.

For the study, researchers from John Hunter Children's Hospital in Newcastle, Australia stowed a set of insulin pumps on a commercial flight. The team reported in the journal Diabetes Care that the amount of insulin the devices delivered changed during the course of the flight depending on cabin pressure.

When the plane was ascending and pressure dropped, the insulin pumps delivered extra units of the hormone. When the plane began descending and pressure grew, the device began pumping less insulin.

While the amount of variation was minimal, it was still enough to potentially affect a person who has very sensitive type 1 diabetes. Furthermore, the study showed that the pressure fluctuations may produce air bubbles in the insulin, which could have adverse effects when delivered into the bloodstream.

The researchers told Reuters Health that this isn't a problem that will affect very many people, as the number of type 1 diabetics who wear insulin pumps is low and the dysfunctions observed in the technology were relatively minor. However, anyone who uses an insulin pump should talk to their doctor about the risk before embarking on a flight, they said.

Additionally, individuals with type 1 diabetes may want to consider disconnecting the device before the flight and checking the insulin supply for air bubbles upon landing, the team told the news source. This could prevent a potentially dangerous situation. While just about everyone hates flying, the experience could be made even worse by a malfunctioning insulin pump.