Is High-altitude Trekking Safe for Diabetics?

Thanks to the modern personal insulin pumps, people with type 1 diabetes can now scale new heights with a better glucose control.

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Do you fear your diabetes will take its toll on your love for adventure? Wondering how you will manage to confront the harsh environment at extreme heights? No worries, it’s time to tame the fear and pursue your passion.

Though it might sound harsh, we don’t expect you to reach the top of Mount Everest. Yet, you may go beyond 5,000 meters and that too, with everything under control including your blood glucose levels. Here is what a 2017 study suggests on climbing mountains even when you have diabetes.

Diabetes and High-altitude Trekking: Know The Risks

No doubt, high-altitude trekking brings numerous environmental and health obstacles along the way to the top. Think about freezing temperatures, racing heartbeats, shortness of breath, and increased blood pressure. These effects are likely to be more damaging when your body is struggling to adapt to the extreme environmental conditions.

The risk of complications is invariably higher in the patients with diabetes because high altitude causes changes in the appetite and the amount of energy you spend. As a result, your hormones may go haywire. Particularly, the combination of uncontrolled blood glucose level and mountain sickness can be fatal.

To make sure the glucose level does not become erratic, you need to measure it at regular intervals. Another thing to watch out for is that capillary blood glucose meter may not work properly due to the height and low temperatures.

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Can Insulin Pumps Act As Savior For Diabetics in High Altitudes?

Most probably. Provided you are physically fit, mentally tough and have taken pre-travel screen tests.

The study that involved 19 patients with type 1 diabetes found that:

  • High-altitude trekking caused no significant health problems in the participants. All the participants had stable blood glucose levels prior to the trekking.
  • During the trek to Damavand Mountain which is 5670 meters above sea level, none of them had very low blood glucose levels despite a high energy expenditure. That said, their blood glucose levels remained within the safe range.
  • All the personal insulin pumps worked properly and presented no problems with delivering the right amount of insulin as per the need. Moreover, the continuous glucose monitoring system (CGM) was accurate.

The Bottom Line

You may go for mountain trekking after taking the necessary training and achieving the fitness levels. Diabetes should not discourage you from giving up on your passion. Just make sure to use any of the modern insulin pumps and take the precautions.

Happy journey to the top.

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References

Diabetic Medicine: A Journal of the British Diabetic Association. URL Link. Retrieved August 25, 2017.

Diabetes Technology and Therapeutics. URL Link. Retrieved August 25, 2017.

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Shailesh is a registered pharmacist and freelance medical writer from Nepal. He has a keen interest in psychology, behavioral science, and health technology. He loves coffee, traveling, cricket and reading.