Increased Insulin Requirements During Exercise at Very High Altitude in Type 1 Diabetes

Department of Internal Medicine, Canisius Wilhelmina Hospital, Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
Diabetes care (Impact Factor: 8.42). 02/2011; 34(3):591-5. DOI: 10.2337/dc10-2015
Source: PubMed


Safe, very high altitude trekking in subjects with type 1 diabetes requires understanding of glucose regulation at high altitude. We investigated insulin requirements, energy expenditure, and glucose levels at very high altitude in relation to acute mountain sickness (AMS) symptoms in individuals with type 1 diabetes.
Eight individuals with complication-free type 1 diabetes took part in a 14-day expedition to Mount Meru (4,562 m) and Mount Kilimanjaro (5,895 m) in Tanzania. Daily insulin doses, glucose levels, energy expenditure, and AMS symptoms were determined. Also, energy expenditure and AMS symptoms were compared with a healthy control group.
We found a positive relation between AMS symptoms and insulin requirements (r = 0.78; P = 0.041) and AMS symptoms and glucose levels (r = 0.86; P = 0.014) for Mount Kilimanjaro. Compared with sea level, insulin doses tended to decrease by 14.2% (19.7) (median [interquartile range]) (P = 0.41), whereas glucose levels remained stable up to 5,000 m altitude. However, at altitudes >5,000 m, insulin dose was unchanged (36.8 ± 17 vs. 37.6 ± 19.1 international units [mean ± SD] P = 0.75), but glucose levels (7.5 ± 0.6 vs. 9.5 ± 0.8 mmol/L [mean ± SD] P = 0.067) and AMS scores (1.3 ± 1.6 vs. 4.4 ± 4 points [mean ± SD] P = 0.091) tended to increase. Energy expenditure and AMS symptoms were comparable in both groups (P = 0.84).
Our data indicate that in complication-free individuals with type 1 diabetes, insulin requirements tend to increase during altitudes above 5,000 m despite high energy expenditure. This change may be explained, at least partly, by AMS.

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    • "Exposure to high altitude can initially lead to higher levels of insulin, glucose, and counter-regulatory hormones, possibly related to AMS (9–11), which typically occurs at altitudes above 3,000 m (12,13). In our study, mean glucose and time in hyper- and hypoglycemia remained stable, consistent with absent glycemic deregulation at altitude. "
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