The full-body scanners now in use at many U.S. airports can damage insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) devices, according to an article published in the journal Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics.
The journal focuses on new products and technology that can be used to prevent, diagnose, monitor and treat diabetes.
In the article, University of Colorado-Denver researchers Andrew Cornish and H. Peter Chase warned that the electromagnetic radiation used by full-body airport scanners may interfere with the motors of insulin pumps and GCM devices, as well as the iPro Recorder from Medtronic. These devices may also be damaged by other sources of electromagnetic radiation, including x-ray machines and the devices used for computer-assisted tomography (CAT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans. In addition, the diabetes devices may even be damaged by the low pressure conditions experienced during normal air travel.
Standard airport metal detectors; however, should pose no threat to the devices.
Unfortunately for diabetics, few if any studies have been published on exactly how insulin pumps and CGM devices are affected by electromagnetic radiation, or airport scanners in particular. The risk of damage is well known, but the specifics remain murky.
“Given the increased use of insulin pump therapy, not only in the U.S., but around the world, it seems critical that more research is funded to better understand and potentially repair this problem,” said Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics editor Irl Hirsch, of the University of Washington Medical Center-Roosevelt, Seattle.
Don’t go through the scanners
Cornish and Chase recommend that travelers who use insulin pumps or CGM devices obtain a letter from their physicians to inform Transportation Security Administration (TSA) staff of their need to undergo a pat-down or use a conventional metal detector rather than a full-body scanner. Patients who have already passed through full-body scanners should immediately contact the manufacturer of their medical device for instructions.
“It is probable that on any given day, large numbers of travelers subject their insulin pumps and/or CGM devices to x-ray and full-body machines, and some may unknowingly experience mild (or worse) malfunctioning as a result,” the authors wrote. “Awareness is thus paramount, and it is the responsibility of diabetes care providers to increase this awareness in their patients.”
Unfortunately, even patients who are aware of the risks may meet resistance from TSA airport screeners. Cornish and Chaste recount the example of a 16-year-old traveler with Type I diabetes who presented TSA screeners with a doctor’s letter explaining that her insulin pump could be damaged by full-body scanners. Nevertheless, TSA officials refused her request for a pat-down and forced her to go through the full-body scanner. When the patient later contacted her pump’s manufacturer, she was advised to disconnect the medical device immediately.
Because device design varies by manufacturer, there is no universal set of instructions that diabetic travelers can follow. For example, while some pumps can be removed without risk and handed to TSA screeners for hand inspection, others should not be removed at all, as doing so may initiate an immediate medical emergency. Likewise, while nearly all insulin pump manufacturers caution against taking the devices through full-body scanners, Insulet Corp. claims that its pumps are designed using a technology that is immune to electromagnetic interference.
Traveling with insulin pumps and CGM devices may pose other complications. For example, many full-body scanners will actually detect these devices as anomalies, as will some metal detectors.
Consumer advocates have also raised concerns over the fact that insulin pumps and other implanted medical devices are vulnerable to being remotely hacked, causing them to malfunction.