Travel with diabetes? Yes, if you plan carefully

Travel with diabetes? Yes, if you plan carefully

Parkland experts offer 10 tips for managing diabetes on the road

Whether you’re heading to a sandy beach, snowy peak, sunny cruise or city sight-seeing, your ‘vaycay’ should be stress-free and fun. To ensure smooth sailing while away, it pays to plan ahead for potential health needs, especially if you have a chronic condition like diabetes.

“Unfortunately, diabetes never takes a day off, but with thoughtful preparation people with this condition can enjoy safe and healthy travel,” said Kellie Rodriguez, MSN, MBA, CDE, Director of the Global Diabetes Program at Parkland Health & Hospital System. “Like everyone else, they want a break from everyday routines. But to feel their best, individuals with diabetes need to stick closely to their normal meal and exercise routines, even when travelling.”

With complex medical conditions, that may be easier said than done, but Parkland’s team of diabetes specialists offer the following advice to patients with diabetes planning a getaway.

Tip 1 – Check with your doctor. “The most important thing is to avoid blood sugar dips and spikes,” said Luigi Meneghini, MD, MBA, Executive Director of Parkland’s Global Diabetes Program and Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “Several weeks before you plan to travel, see your physician to make sure your diabetes is under control. Find out if any medication adjustments are needed, make sure your immunizations are up-to-date, renew your prescriptions and get documentation of your medications and devices. Give your travel companion a copy as well in case of emergency.”

Tip 2 – Be prepared. Know the location of emergency services at your travel destination, learn diabetes-related medical terms in the language of the country you’re visiting and bring your Medical Alert Identification. “Wear it on your wrist or neck, not stashed in your wallet where it’s not easily visible in event of emergency,” Rodriguez advised.

Tip 3 – Keep your supplies with you, not in checked luggage. Rodriguez recommends that patients pack at least twice the amount of supplies you think you’ll need, like blood glucose test strips and lancets, ketone test strips, glucose tablets or gel. Basic wound supplies and plenty of alcohol wipes and hand sanitizer are also musts.

Tip 4 – Keep insulin cool. If you take insulin, bring a cold pack to keep it cool while traveling, especially during summer months. Also pack insulin vial protectors to avoid breakage.

Tip 5 – Timing is everything, especially when it comes to insulin. If you’re crossing time zones, it’s important to talk to your doctor about adjusting the type and timing of insulin to help you manage your insulin properly. If you use an insulin pump, remember to change the date and time on the pump to local time at your destination. And pack extra batteries for any devices you use.

Tip 6 – Keep moving. Blood sugars tend to rise during long road, train or airline trips because of inactivity. You can offset that by getting up and moving around on the train or plane or taking frequent breaks if driving to get out and walk. “People with high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes that isn’t well managed also face a higher risk for travel-related blood clots,” Dr. Meneghini said. “Compression socks are recommended for those at risk to help prevent clot formation.”

Tip 7 – Food to go. Before you get there, learn about the foods of the country you’re visiting. Bring a variety of snacks with you to have handy for blood sugar drops or delays in meals. Rodriguez advised packing a fast-acting glucose source as well as snacks for slower-release energy that combine protein and complex carbs, such as peanut butter on graham or whole wheat crackers, nuts and nutrition bars.

Tip 8 – Beat the heat. People with diabetes can be even more susceptible to heat stroke than other individuals, Dr. Meneghini said. “Dehydration and sunburn can spike blood sugar. Someone with diabetes needs to stay well hydrated, wear protective clothing and a hat, use sun screen and avoid sunburn and excessive heat. Don’t quench your thirst with caffeinated or sugary drinks, choose water instead. And when in a foreign country, stick to bottled water.”

Tip 9 – Mind your step. “Comfortable walking shoes are essential,” said Rodriguez, “along with soft cotton socks that absorb moisture to help prevent infections. I also recommend wearing white socks to help quickly identify a cut or wound on your foot. Never walk bare footed, because even a minor cut or scrape can take longer to heal or lead to complications when you have diabetes.”

Tip 10 – Expect the unexpected. “Part of the joy of travel is seeing new places and having new adventures,” Rodriguez said. “But with diabetes, you have to be prepared to deal with delays, changes in schedule and new and different foods that could impact your health. You should also check your healthcare coverage if traveling abroad or in other states to know what’s covered in case you need to see a doctor. If you’ve thought about these things in advance, you’ll have less stress and more time to relax and enjoy the trip.”

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