Traveling with Diabetes
Over 23 million Americans, both children and adults, have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. People with diabetes do not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas that regulates the amount of glucose (sugar) we use for energy. Diabetics either don’t make enough insulin or utilize it so poorly that the body’s glucose increases. Normal blood sugar is 70 to 150; several readings of 200 or higher may indicate diabetes.
Types I & II Diabetes
Type I diabetes is rare, begins in childhood and requires lifelong monitoring. Type II diabetes–far more common–develops later in life, often triggered by weight gain in adults. Symptoms include increased urination, thirst or hunger, unusual weight loss, increased fatigue and blurred vision. And although the cause is still poorly understood, diabetes can result in circulation problems in small blood vessels. Foot numbness (peripheral neuropathy), heart, kidney and vision complications, infections and poor healing of even minor cuts can also occur.
The key to managing diabetes is balancing sugar and insulin. Weight loss, exercise and a balanced diet controls the disease in some people. Others take pills to stimulate the body’s insulin production. Still others inject insulin under the skin. There are several varieties of insulin, which can be short, medium or long-acting in terms of the number of hours it’s effective. Dosages are measured in units. Treatment is individualized and may involve occasional adjustment. One patient may take oral medication and use insulin only when needed for rare spikes in blood sugar. Another may use insulin twice a day, but her doctor may prescribe more insulin for higher than usual sugar levels, using a sliding scale. For instance, if her blood sugar is between 200 and 225 she might take two extra units, if 225 to 250, four units.
Blood sugar should be monitored regularly, either by medical personnel or at home with a gadget that tests a drop of blood. Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) symptoms include shakiness, hunger, tiredness, headache, sweating and possible seizures. A cracker or juice can quickly restore energy and boost sugar levels. High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) symptoms develop gradually and include thirst, fatigue, blurred vision, nausea and possible coma if untreated.
Sugar fluctuates throughout the day and is lower in the morning and higher after meals. While eating increases and exercise reduces blood sugar, illness and stress can also affect it. Diabetics learn to recognize their reactions and adjust their days accordingly. While traveling, it’s important to balance meals and activities and avoid fatigue.
Tips for Traveling with Diabetes
1) Try to stay on the same schedule that you do at home. If you eat three meals and a snack daily, follow the same schedule while traveling.
2) While on the road, make stops to walk or exercise to keep sugar levels stable.
3) For physical activities like swimming or hiking that burn more calories than usual, monitor your sugar levels and caloric intake and adjust diet and medication as needed to avoid unwanted reactions.
4) Since foot care is important in diabetes, don’t go barefoot, keep feet dry and cut nails straight across to avoid ingrown toenails. Seek medical help for unusual redness, swelling, pain, tingling or numbness.
5) Avoid fast foods, sugars and fats and use alcohol sparingly. Fiber, grains, fruit and leafy vegetables are more beneficial.
6) Carry a letter from your doctor with your basic medical history as well as copies of current prescriptions, including insulin. An unknown doctor in a facility far from home will have a much easier time diagnosing and treating you in any emergency with this information.
For more information on diabetes, contact the American Diabetes Association weekdays at 1-800-342-2383, email AskADA@diabetes.org or write American Diabetes Association, ATTN: National Call Center, 1701 North Beauregard St., Alexandria, VA 22311.