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A Peek at the Pump
A Peek at the Pump


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Online learning resources for diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and nutrition.
Diabetes 101: Learn more about diabetes, managing your blood sugar levels, and your diet.
Diabetes 201: Learn more about diabetes, managing your blood sugars, and your diet.
Asthma 101: Learn more about asthma and dealing with shortness of breath.
Hypertension 101: Learn more about hypertension and managing your blood pressure.
Nutrition 101: Learn more about improving your nutrition and diet

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Office Hours: Ask the Expert

Sweet Vacation

By Naomi Mendelsohn



"People don't tend to think of vacation as an active time of year. They think they'll be relaxing and lying on a beach. But when you compare that to sitting at a desk all day, vacation is much more active."



Whether you're setting sail for the Great Pacific or hitting the open road this summer, nothing helps cure the summertime blues more than a much-needed vacation.

But, a break from your hectic life doesn't mean you can leave your health behind. The pile of papers on your desk is one thing, your health is another, especially if you have diabetes.

Not to worry. Just because you've got to pack your syringes and medicine alongside your towel doesn't mean that you can't have fun. We asked Karen Chalmers R.D., C.D.E., Director of Nutrition Services at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston to give us some helpful hints for managing diabetes while travelling.

On the road

SavvyHEALTH:Is there anything special people with diabetes should think about when planning a vacation?

Chalmers: People don't tend to think of vacation as an active time of year. They think they'll be relaxing and lying on a beach. But when you compare that to sitting at a desk all day, vacation is much more active. People do a lot of moving whether they are on a tour, on a boat or walking around, and they need to take this into consideration. They'll get more low blood sugars and they need to have treatment food to treat it. Also, if they know to expect this, they can talk to their doctor about adjusting medication for more active days.

SH: What other precautions should people take?

Chalmers: The first thing we usually tell people is to have their doctor write a letter on letterhead explaining their condition and anything else that another physician would need to know about their diabetes to be able to treat them. This letter can also come in handy at airports when airport workers see syringes and medications in people's luggage. Most people are more aware of diabetes now, but people used to always get stopped for syringes.

A new thing that's happening is that people with insulin pumps are asked to take them off when they go through metal detectors. Most people don't know what an insulin pump is for the most part, but it's connected right into the abdomen. It's not easy to get out. That's another way the letter comes in handy.

SH: Are there any extra supplies people should pack when going on vacation?

Chalmers: They should always take extra supplies of diabetes pills or syringes. We suggest taking twice as much as they need. Also, they should carry prescriptions for these medications just in case something is misplaced, and have the doctor write down the generic names as the brand names can vary from country to country.

People should also always carry snacks with them. That way, if a meal is delayed or they are stuck on a plane or in any number of other situations, they are prepared. Also, carrying water helps. When blood sugar is high, it's good to drink water to help dilute it out of the blood stream

SH: What other problems can arise?

Chalmers: They should watch out for things like motion sickness. If anything causes them to be ill or to vomit, it can really upset blood sugars. In foreign countries, they should be careful of local water, local peeled fruits and vegetables that can be contaminated. Also, particularly severe sunburn can cause stress to the body which, in turn, raises blood sugar. So, it's important to use sun block.

SH: Any other good traveling tips?

Chalmers: One thing I've heard about is people having low blood sugar, but not knowing how to ask for help. You need to know how to say "Please get me some juice" or "Please get me to a doctor" in the language of the country you're visiting.

Also, I'd recommend definitely packing extra comfortable shoes. Foot problems are a really big thing for people with diabetes.

SH: If people take all these precautions, should they be OK to travel?

Chalmers: They should be able to travel just fine. Unfortunately, people with diabetes have to plan more than the average person. But, if plans mean they will have a nice vacation, it's really worth it.

Naomi Mendelsohn is a content editor at savvyHEALTH.com.


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