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Diabetes Insulin Pumps Victims of Airport Security

Airport security body scans

A walk through airport security could prove to be more than a minor hassle for people with diabetes who have an insulin pump or sensor. A new report suggests insulin pumps and insulin sensors may be damaged when individuals wearing them go through a full-body scan at an airport.

Is your insulin pump safe and secure?

It's not enough you have to take off your shoes, belt, jewelry, and jackets when going through airport security, not to mention separating your laptop from its case and your toiletries into baggies. If you have diabetes, especially type 1, you already have to be prepared for anything when traveling, making sure you take your medication on time, closely monitor glucose levels, and being sure to eat at the proper times, get sufficient exercise, and manage stress.

A new report in Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics suggests people with diabetes who wear an insulin pump or a continuous glucose monitoring device may encounter a problem when going through a full-body scanning machine. The authors provide an example of a patient with type 1 diabetes and an insulin pump who was ordered to go through a full body scan even though she had a doctor's letter explaining the potential for pump damage if it was exposed to the scanner and requesting the patient have a pat-down instead.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners ignored the request, even though the patient had followed rules officially endorsed by the organization. She was told to go through the scanner and later reported the incident to the pump's manufacturer, who recommended she disconnect from the pump even though the company could not confirm the pump had been damaged.

As the authors of the report note, insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitoring devices are at risk of electromagnetic malfunction if they are taken through imaging devices. More specifically, here is a list of diabetic medical devices and imaging equipment that may cause interference:

  • Insulin pumps, continuous glucose monitors, continuous glucose monitor transmitters, and the iPro Recorder (from Medtronic) can be affected by computer-assisted tomography (CAT), x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), and airport body scanners.
  • All of these same medical devices are not affected by airport metal detectors

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To be safe, therefore, anyone who has any of these devices should opt out of full-body scans and request a pat-down or to be checked with a regular metal detector. Medtronic, for example, provides patients with Airport Security Guidelines which explain that their continuous glucose monitoring devices and pumps can be taken through metal detection but that both devices must be removed if patients go through a full-body scanner.

The company also provides patients with information cards that can be shown to TSA screeners. Another pump manufacturer, Animas Corporation, recommends patients avoid exposing their pumps to x-rays and ask for a hand-wand inspection. Insulet Corp. has a pump system that uses a technology that makes it theoretically immune from electromagnetic problems.

The possibility that going through airport security could impact and damage insulin pumps brings to mind another security issue regarding insulin pumps and other implanted medical devices. Numerous experts have been investigating the possibility that hackers can remotely infiltrate insulin pumps, pacemakers, and other healthcare technology, causing them to malfunction.

So while advances in medical technology are helping improve the lives of individuals who have serious health issues, they also have the potential to makes those lives more complicated. For people who have insulin pumps or sensors, precautions should be taken when traveling to help ensure these critical medical devices don't become victims of airport security.

Cornish A, Chase H. Peter. Navigating airport security with an insulin pump and/or sensor. Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics 2012. doi:10.1089/dia.2012.0220

Image: Wikimedia Commons



ABOLISH THE TSA. The Nazis preyed on vulnerable people. America ought to be better than that.
I had a TSA agent argue with me regarding not being able o go through full body scanner at Houston (IAH) they basically forced me through claiming that the new millimeter wave machine will not hurt the pump even though i had letter from my doctor and medtronic paperwork. In Mobile AL I was hand patted and it was very uncomfortable, people were staring at me like i di d something wrong. My pump is still functioning properly.
I don't understand the physics of how x-ray can harm ANY electronic device. X-rays are electrically neutral, unlike metal detectors that actually generate an EMF field. I've been a radiologic technologist for more than twenty years and this is the FIRST time I've heard of x-rays interfering with an electronic device of any kind. MRI is the only modality I am aware of that can cause trouble to a device of any sort. I don't have my patients take off their pumps/cgms when they are receiving mammograms.
I was unaware of the body scanners at that airport, keep in mind I haven't flown anywhere in several years and was used to only going through a metal detection process. After going through the body scanner my pump completely quite working the next day. If this is a problem, which clearly it is since I'm not the only one reporting this problem, you'd think airports would make this common knowledge amongst airport security and staff to avoid lawsuits. But what do I know?! Instead I warn security that I'm wearing a pump and they say, just make sure its in your waistband. They'd rather have a plane make a potential emergency landing to deal with my impending ketoacidosis or maybe just knock me unconscious. God Bless America!
So sorry you had to go through this. According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) information page, passengers can inform the agents ahead of time of the insulin pump and request a pat down, imaging technology, or metal detection. Good luck on your airline trip if you choose to take one!
Upon calling TSA they said they were familiar with the insulin pumps and no problem. Mmm, flying from STL to Chicago, there was a delay going through security and when refusing the scanner was told to wait for a pat down. Not a problem for me but all eyes were on me wondering what was going on, Chicago only has a body scanner. I know this is necessary for safety but with pump info and doctor note was a pain.They were quite insistant that I go through the scanner but refused and insisted I get a pat down. I;m sure this can be a real problem traveling internationally.