One of the most enjoyable aspects of summer is the opportunity to visit faraway countries. But for people with diabetes, air travel through different time zones presents unique challenges, potentially leading to adverse events if not managed appropriately.

A literature review presented at the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) 25th Annual Scientific and Clinical Congress in Orlando, FL, examined nine peer-reviewed studies and two nursing guidelines to glean recommendations for individuals with diabetes who are traveling across multiple time zones.

To shed light on this important subject, MPR interviewed lead author Rahul Suresh, MD, MS, Internal Medicine/Aerospace Medicine Resident, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas.

What made you undertake this study?

I am in training to be an aerospace management specialist, and my background is in Internal Medicine. My coauthor, James Pavela, MD — also an Internal Medicine/Aerospace Medicine Resident — and I were asked to help provide guidelines for the Aerospace Medical Association regarding the management of various chronic illnesses, including diabetes, during air travel. As an internist, I care for patients with diabetes on a regular basis, and so I was particularly interested in this topic.

How many people with diabetes are affected by complications during air travel?

The numbers are actually quite staggering. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts that a billion people will travel by air in 2016 alone. The known prevalence of diabetes is approximately 10% of the US population. And of the diabetes population, approximately 10% will develop complications. If 10% of 1 billion travelers have diabetes, and 10% of these individuals will develop complications, this translates into 10 million complications annually.