• Diabetes and flying
  • Food and flying
  • Sugar free drinks
  • Diabetes and flying

    It is safe for people with diabetes to fly despite the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) but it is sensible to be prepared, to move about on the plane and drink plenty of sugar free drinks.

    DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in the deep vein of the lower leg, which carries blood towards the heart. Having diabetes can increase the risk of heart and circulation problems, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. This then increases the risk of developing clots. Clots can also develop when blood passes more slowly through the vein, which is what can happen during a flight, particularly long-haul flights.

    DVT has become known as 'economy class syndrome' but this term is misleading. People sitting in cars, buses and trains may also be at risk, and DVT can affect people sitting in business or premier class, as well as economy. The term 'travellers thrombosis' would be more accurate.

    People with diabetes can reduce the risk of blood clots by:

  •   Maintaining a healthy weight
  •   Not smoking
  •   Keeping your blood glucose levels under 7.
  • Studies have shown that low doses of aspirin given to those at risk of clots help prevent clots forming. But you must discuss this treatment with your GP or healthcare team.

    Some medical conditions and medications are not compatible with aspirin - although other similar drugs can sometimes be used.

    You can also ask your GP or healthcare team if 'flight socks' are suitable for you. These are available from chemists and support your legs.

    But they must be worn correctly or they can restrict the blood flow through the veins and create more problems.

    Apart from these socks, you should wear loose clothing and well-fitting shoes.

    Food and flying

    'Diabetic' airplane meals often contain less carbohydrate than standard meals so stick with the standard meals served to everybody. Standard meals can be small, however, so if it doesn't contain enough carbohydrate, ask a flight attendant for some extra carbohydrate such as fruit, crackers or bread rolls. Also it is essential to take plenty of carbohydrate snacks with you in your hand luggage.

    Contact the airline before your trip to find out when your meal will be served.

    Be prepared for delays - you may need to adjust your injection times, change your doses and eat extra snacks.

    Crossing time zones may involve adjustments to insulin too. When travelling east to west, the day is lengthened so you may need extra food and insulin.

    When travelling west to east, the day is shortened so you may need to reduce your carbohydrates and insulin. Plan your flight with your healthcare team.

    Sugar free drinks

    Drink plenty of sugar-free drinks to avoid getting dehydrated. Alcohol can accelerate dehydration, so it's best avoided. But if you must, drink it in moderation.

    Now, sit back, watch the movie and enjoy the flight. But remember to keep those toes and ankles moving and take the odd stroll around.

    Issue December 03