Altitude

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Aside from the in-flight experience, you may need to deal with the effects of high altitude if you are traveling to one of various popular destination spots renowned for their high altitude sports such as cross country skiing, snowboarding, or mountain climbing. Having an awareness of how altitude may affect your blood glucose readings in these situations is a must for anyone with diabetes.

Most blood glucose meters are dependent on oxygen to work properly. At altitude, the amount of oxygen in the air decreases and can negatively affect the performance of a meter, leading to errors in working out dosages.

Living at Altitude

Most people only pause to wonder about altitude once they are boarding a plane for a long-haul flight, but what about people who live at altitude? There are numerous cities across the globe that are situated in high altitude settings. Individuals with diabetes who live in these cities may regularly administer erroneous insulin dosages. Cities such as these include Colorado Springs, USA (1840 meters, 6040 feet), Mexico City, Mexico (2200 meters, 7220 feet), and La Paz, Bolivia (3640 meters, 11940 feet).

For many blood glucose meters, there is about a 1-2% underestimation of blood glucose levels for every 300 meters (1,000 feet) of elevation. This could mean nearly 25% error in the daily meter readings if you live in La Paz! No wonder many individuals have a hard time establishing strong control of their levels while traveling. Even if they are able to hit their target numbers, their meters may not be reading accurately. How frustrating!

Further research needs to be conducted to check the performance of glucometers as various altitudes in order to better understand the relationship between altitude and glucometer performance. Until then, speak with your team of medical professionals for advice on how to avoid going low while traveling in the air, partaking in sports, or visiting one of the world’s high altitude cities.

Top tips

  • Check blood glucose levels as often as you can.
  • Be sensitive to the ways your body adapts to altitude.
  • Carry multiple meters or methods of measuring blood glucose levels as a way to cross-check your blood glucose data. This can help adjust for meter inconsistencies due to your environment.

Reference

Jendle, J., Adolfsson, P. (2011). Impact of high altitudes on glucose control. Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology.