WEDNESDAY, Nov. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Full body X-ray scanners
and luggage X-rays may damage some insulin pumps and continuous
glucose monitors, both used by many people with diabetes to manage
It's likely that every day, large numbers of travelers expose
these diabetes care devices to X-rays while going through airport
security "and some may unknowingly experience mild [or worse]
malfunctioning as a result," wrote the authors of a recent
editorial in the journal
Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics.
They recommend carrying a letter that details all of the medical
supplies someone with diabetes needs to carry on board with them.
They also recommend that if someone wears an insulin pump or
continuous glucose monitors, the letter specifically state that
these devices shouldn't be subjected to X-rays, either from a full
body scanner or the X-ray machine that scans carry-on luggage.
Instead, these devices should be hand-checked, according to
editorial co-authors Andrew Cornish and Dr. H. Peter Chase, from
the University of Colorado Denver.
Dr. Tracy Breen, director of diabetes care for North Shore-LIJ
Health System in New Hyde Park, N.Y., agreed with this advice.
"I always recommend that people living with diabetes travel with a letter from their doctor stating their diagnosis of diabetes, what their travel needs are and what supplies they are traveling with," Breen said. "Since we really don't know what can happen to an insulin pump or [continuous glucose monitoring] device when it is passed through an imaging device, it is important to follow the manufacturer's recommendations."
Breen added, "It's also important for people and their doctors
to be well versed in Transportation Safety Administration (TSA)
guidelines and to consider incorporating those guidelines into the
text of their travel letter."
The editorial described the experience of a 16-year-old patient
who was told to wear her insulin pump through a full-body scanner
by the TSA. As a result of the X-ray exposure, the pump's
manufacturer advised the young lady to disconnect the pump, because
they couldn't be sure whether or not damage had occurred.
Any pump that uses what's known as direct current motor
technology is at risk from X-ray exposure, according to the
editorial. Insulin pumps made by Medtronic, Animas and Tandem
Diabetes Care use direct current motor technology.
"Like the rest of the insulin pump industry, we recommend the t:slim pump be removed when entering a full body scanner," said Susan Morrison, director of corporate investor relations at Tandem in San Diego. Morrison said that Tandem also recommends that the t:slim pump not be exposed to luggage X-ray machines.
Currently, the only FDA-approved insulin pump that doesn't use
direct current motor technology is the OmniPod by Insulet. That
pump uses shape-memory alloy wire technology, which according to
the company, isn't affected by X-ray exposure. Insulet's user
manual says that both the pods, which hold insulin and are attached
to the body, and the wireless device that controls the insulin
delivery can be X-rayed.
Medtronic also cautions against allowing their continuous
glucose monitoring device to go through any type of X-ray
None of the pump companies expressed concerns about passing
these devices through the metal detectors in the airport.
The editorial noted that on an airplane, the increased pressure
in the cabin can cause some insulin pumps to deliver slightly more
insulin. In general, this isn't a significant concern for teens or
adults because the potential amount of extra insulin isn't large
enough to make a big difference in blood sugar levels.
But, in young children who use very small amounts of insulin,
the extra insulin could cause a drop in blood sugar levels. Parents
who are aware of this potential can monitor their children more
carefully while flying to avoid unexpectedly low blood sugar
In addition, the sensitivity of continuous glucose monitors may
be affected by changes in air cabin pressure, with extra pressure
possibly causing lower readings.
The authors of the editorial said that more research is needed
to determine exactly how much insulin delivery and continuous
glucose monitor readings are affected by air cabin pressure.
Read more about traveling with diabetes from the
U.S. Transportation Security Administration.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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