Should insulin pumps create a fear of flying?

WHEN Newcastle researchers heard of a 10-year-old girl with usually well-controlled type 1 diabetes on insulin pump therapy who developed hypoglycaemia 60–90 minutes into flying on commercial planes, it piqued their interest. 

Furthermore, when they asked around, they found there were at least 50 similar cases reported.

This prompted the research team to run a series of experiments to investigate the effects of altitude changes on insulin pump delivery. 

In the study, 10 insulin pumps were connected to capillary tubes, and the effect of changes in atmospheric pressure on insulin delivery, bubble formation, bubble size and cartridge plunger movement were then analysed.

The results, published in the September issue of Diabetes Care, show that changes in altitude may lead to unintended insulin delivery via two main mechanisms. 

According to the authors, atmospheric pressure reduction, which occurs as an

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