X-tra Cautious?

airport scannerRecently, a friend who has diabetes posted on Facebook  that she doesn’t go through the x-ray security machine at the airport beacuse x-rays, over several exposures, can denature insulin and render it ineffective. And as someone who has been on about 20 flights in the past 12 months and wears her insulin pump through every x-ray secutity checkpoint, this was A.) news to me and B.) not good news.

I had not heard this before, and I also have to say that personally, I don’t recall experiencing an issue with it. However I do recall plenty of trips where I’ve had less than awesome blood sugars, although I’ve always blamed that on travel/time change/lots of sitting/weird food. Could the scanners have fried my insulin a bit, pushing my BGs up for a few days? Hard to say, when there are so many factors at play.

My friend noted that it’s often several exposures (i.e. folks who travel on a plane and therefore go through security several times a week) that really do the most damage, saying she has a few friends who have testified that an entire cartridge of pump insulin has been fried due to the x-rays.  But she also noted that there’s really no need to risk any denaturing when you can just get a pat down and save yourself from worrying about it at all., which is a good point if this is really a thing. Although, those are also a pain to request and endure in their own right for different reasons.

There’s a mixed bag of information about this when I looked it up on the Google Machine. Some folks swear it’s a problem, other people say there’s no scientific evidence to support this idea.

So of course, I turn to the only reliable source I really have in this world for all things diabetes (which is you guys) to find some answers. Is this a thing? Do I need to be opting out of x-rays at the airport? And what about extra insulin packed in my carry on that goes through the even more powerful x-ray machine? Can that be denatured? Inquiring minds that are soon to be airborn again want to know!




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I always request a pat down, for one, because I don’t trust the TSA/government/whatever when they say it’s safe. Also, I heard a horror story from a woman who said her daughter’s pump malfunctioned while going through one of those and dumped the entire cartridge in at once. I say better safe than sorry.

I’ve also heard (and, again, don’t know the truth behind it) that when you’re taking off, the pressure change can cause the pump to put in extra insulin, while the descent can cause it to be pulled back in the tube. I haven’t seen this for myself, but you never know.

In my trips, I didn’t have much choice. Not wearing a pump until last year, my pens and insulin were typically stored in my hand luggage. And they get X-rayed. Twice, sometimes.

Anecdotal evidence is this: When my ampulle was almost empty on the return trip, I sometimes noticed unexplainable highs in the days after. I typically blamed the x-raying as well and got rid of the the “almost empty” sooner than usual.

However, the unopened bottles were typically not affected. So I can’t really confirm or deny it (although it certainly _feels_ like a problem).

From a technical point of view I would like to point out, though, that insulin is really a solution of relatively few organic molecules in lots of water. And the capture cross section is low (so it would behave more like skin rather than bones and not show up very well). Insulin is probably unlikely to really get fried.

And now I want to test this. Two equal date code samples, one fried for a lengthy amount of time, both injected at steady, decent blood glucose levels should do. Now I just need to find a suitable x-ray source (mine doesn’t work, sadly).

I’ve gone through x rays before and never took note of an issue with insulin in my pump that could have related to that. However I do not visit airports all too often. I do request a pat down when the scanners are involved. This is because I have heard they are no good for diabetes devices. I never actually thought about the insulin that goes through the x ray with my stuff. Very good question.

Ask the manufacturer if they had done this test – they should as a reasonable exposure for travelers. I know they would have been required to establish insulin stability for different temperatures, UV and visible light exposure, vibration (yes, protein in solution denatured if vigorously shaken), they may have already done this. Worth a call to customer service, and if you say on the call (which is by law recorded and/or documented)you believe you may have had a low due to insulin being degraded by airport x-rays, they are required by law to investigate as a possible “adverse event.” Ultimately they might have to change the labeling to say hand-scan only and notify TSA.

Lex, As you know I travel often and now avoid those xray machines since I am a frequent traveler and am a part of the TSA Pre-Check program which allows us to go through the expedite line and avoid those machines. While I understand that is not available for every T-1, if you have the opportunity to apply for the global entry program http://www.globalentry.gov/ (a $100 fee) and do travel often it will automatically get you TSA Pre-Check status and afford you the opportunity to skip the xray machines. I have never had an issue with my pump/monitor since I have been going through the Pre-CHeck lines.

JOhn I just checked that out – sounds like it was worth it?! I’m on a flight at least one time a month so for me, I’d love to get a pass.

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