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Traveling Safely With Diabetes

A Little Extra Planning Can Assure a Safe and Fun Vacation

WebMD Feature

On a trekking expedition in Europe, a young man with diabetic neuropathy -- nerve damage in legs, feet, and hands related to diabetes -- develops ulcers on his feet while hiking through wet farmland. Moisture contaminated with bacteria is absorbed through the ulcers, causing an acute infection.

The result: a shortened vacation, five days in a hospital in Europe, and several weeks on antibiotics at home.

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"It was the last kind of trip he should have signed up for," says travel medicine expert Winkler Weinberg, MD, director of the International Travel Medicine Clinic, which serves Kaiser Permanente members in Atlanta.

Weinberg says the case is an extreme example of the way a chronic condition like diabetes can wreak havoc on vacation fun when the proper precautions are not taken.

With summer rapidly approaching, Americans are planning their trips to the mountains, ocean, and foreign shores. But for individuals with chronic conditions such as diabetes, a little extra planning should be anticipated to make sure vacations are safe and healthy.

"If you have diabetes, there isn't anyplace you can't go," says Paula Yutzy, RN, a certified diabetes educator and director of diabetes education at Diabetes Center at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. "It should not stop you if you are prepared."

Whether traveling to Switzerland or a nearby seashore, patients with diabetes are advised to bring a sugar source. "They should have with them some form of sugar to treat insulin reactions -- peanut butter, a juice box, or glucose tablets," Weinberg says.

And what about those long car rides, cramped in the car? "If patients with diabetes are driving long distances, they need to stop at rest stops and get up and walk," Yutzy tells WebMD. "If they are sitting for a long time it can contribute to poor circulation in their legs."

Endocrinologist David Bell, MD, suggests taking an aspirin for its blood-thinning properties before a long car or plane ride. "As long as the patient does not have allergic or other adverse reactions to aspirin, it can help prevent blood clots in the legs," says Bell, who is professor of medicine at the University of Alabama School of Medicine.

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