Diabetes and mountains

Only mountains can be better than mountains! This is a place where people test their strength and look for new adventures. Mountains attract many, and people with diabetes are no exception. In this article, we will talk about Coral Ortega, who has been living with type 1 diabetes since the age of 16. She and her boyfriend, Alex, are leading the Type1 Xtrem movement , which aims to create audio-visual materials that tell communities that diabetes is not a barrier to mountaineering.

How do mountains affect blood sugar levels?

There is no direct evidence that being on high ground raises blood sugar levels. However, the symptoms of altitude sickness can be quite similar. In addition, increased physical activity can, no doubt, lead to a drop in blood sugar levels. When it comes to hyperglycemia, exercising and exercising in mountainous areas can be very stressful, and stress hormones, in turn, increase blood sugar levels.

Coral told us that a few days ago, her first ascent, full of doubts and uncertainty, happened in her life. “During the ascent, which took several hours, my blood sugar fluctuated constantly. Fortunately, when we climbed to the top, everything stabilized. At the top, a completely new sensation overtook me. For a few moments I was able to forget about diabetes and even got lost in a space that seemed completely endless and remote from civilization. When I finally got down, there was a sense of reunion.”

insulin sensitivity

According to some studies on insulin sensitivity, exposure to high altitudes may cause insulin resistance due to changes in the efficiency of carbohydrate metabolism. This can lead to high blood sugar levels and, in extreme cases, high ketone levels or ketoacidosis .

During our conversation with Coral , she told us about one of the most dangerous stories that happened to her in the mountains. One day she went to the Sierra de Madrid. Coral was in full readiness. In the middle of the day, being away from civilization, Coral ‘s blood sugar dropped to a critically low level – she almost lost consciousness. Her boyfriend, Alex, knew how to proceed and quickly prepared a mixture of gel and water to stop the hypoglycemia. “After this incident, I always check if I took glucose gels with me, even if I go out for a minute walk. Thanks to Alex, nothing happened to me, but then I realized how important it is to go to the mountains with someone who is at least a little knowledgeable about diabetes.”

How devices work

Apparently, some blood glucose meters and insulin pumps do not work well at higher elevations. It is very important to check your blood sugar more frequently and manually. Professionals recommend that you read your pump instructions and contact the manufacturer to find out how to avoid increasing your insulin dose in mountainous areas.

Coral shared a story with us from 2018: “In many cases, I didn’t have the opportunity to stop to check my blood sugar with my finger — my hands were so cold that blood wouldn’t flow. The real lifesaver was the continuous glucose monitoring system, which gave alerts for high and low blood sugar levels.”

To sum it up, mountains present some challenges for people with diabetes. Before traveling (especially if you are going to mountainous areas), check with your endocrinologist. He can advise you on medications for altitude sickness, and also give you advice on adjusting your insulin doses. With the right attitude and support, you can conquer any peak.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not replace the instructions for use of the device, nor the opinion, diagnosis and treatment prescribed by a physician. Always consult your doctor for treatment and diagnosis, and strictly follow your doctor’s instructions. Medtronic is not responsible for damages directly or indirectly caused or alleged to be caused by the information contained in this article.

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