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Traveling With Diabetes Takes Planning

May 29, 2012

Washington Hospital Seminar Offers Trip Tips

If you have diabetes, planning your summer vacation takes on new meaning, with the emphasis on planning. Globetrotting is possible for those with the chronic disease, but preparation is the key to avoiding any medical mishaps.

"People with diabetes can see the world, but they have to plan for every possibility," said Sandra Mertesdorf, a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator at Washington Hospital. "You have to plan how you and your medications will arrive safely at your destination and what services are available where you will be staying."

She will present "Trip Tips for People with Diabetes" on Thursday, June 7, from 7 to 8 p.m. It will be held at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West), in Fremont. The seminar is part of Washington Hospital's free monthly Diabetes Matters education series.

Mertesdorf will walk participants through the steps they need to take to prepare for their next trip. Every detail of the trip must be considered, she said.

"You can't count on the fact that the medications and other supplies you depend on will be available where you are going," Mertesdorf added. "What if your flight gets delayed or your car breaks down. You need to be prepared for every possibility."

Travel Checklist

She said the first thing people with diabetes should do is create a travel checklist to make sure they will have everything they need to stay healthy. It should include all the medications and supplies needed to keep their blood glucose levels under control during the trip. She will provide participants with a sample list.

"You should bring everything you will need with you, including medications, glucose tablets, your meter and test strips, all your supplies," Mertesdorf said. "Even if there are pharmacies available where you are going, they may not carry the type of insulin or oral medication you use. Medications in other countries can have different strengths. It's not standardized. You should also bring an extra meter and insulin pump if you use one."

She said it is best for people with diabetes to work with their health care team to make sure they have considered all the possibilities. Mertesdorf recommends they get a letter from their doctor that stipulates their medical condition and includes contact information and medication requirements. Depending on the destination, certain immunizations may be needed and their physician can advise them about that as well.

In addition to the letter, Mertesdorf urges people with diabetes to wear a medical identification bracelet and carry a card that lists their medical condition as well as emergency contact information. She also encourages people to travel with a companion who knows about their diabetes.

Schedule Changes

While traveling is meant to be enjoyable, it can also be exhausting and stressful. Changes to normal schedules as well as the added activity and stress can affect blood glucose levels. Time changes have to be factored in as well.

"Traveling disrupts your normal routine," Mertesdorf said. "While that's exciting, it can make it difficult for people with diabetes. You may be eating at different times and having foods you don't normally eat. If you are crossing time zones, your medication schedule may need to be adjusted."

She said people with diabetes should put all their medications and supplies in their carryon bag rather than in checked luggage because the flight could get delayed, luggage might get lost, and insulin can't go in the cargo hold. People with insulin pumps should contact the pump manufacturer to see if there are any special instructions for takeoff and landing.

Mertesdorf recommends that people with diabetes check their blood glucose more often while traveling and be prepared to treat high and low blood glucose. It is also important for people with diabetes to get plenty of sleep and stay well hydrated to help keep blood glucose levels under control. She said people with diabetes should carry healthy snacks and water at all times.

"There is so much for people with diabetes to think about when traveling," she added. "Bring all your questions with you so you can be ready for your next trip."

To learn about other diabetes programs at Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com/diabetes.