"Promoting the science of aerospace medicine"

29th of October 2012

Diabetes Insulin Pumps Victims of Airport Security

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. 

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 

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