Climbing Kilimanjaro for Diabetes is a challenging and rewarding experience for anyone, but it can be especially daunting for people with diabetes. The high altitude, cold temperatures, and strenuous physical activity can all pose risks for those managing blood sugar levels. That being said, However, with careful planning and preparation, it is possible for people with diabetes to climb Kilimanjaro safely and successfully

Although regular physical activity is encouraged for individuals with diabetes, exercise at high altitude increases risk for a number of potential complications. This review highlights our current understanding of the key physiological and clinical issues that accompany high-altitude travel and proposes basic clinical strategies to help overcome obstacles faced by trekkers with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. Although individuals with diabetes have adaptations to the hypoxia of high altitude (increased ventilation, heart rate, blood pressure and hormonal responses), elevated counter-regulatory hormones can impair glycaemic control, particularly if mountain sickness occurs. Moreover, high-altitude-induced anorexia and increased energy expenditure can predispose individuals to dysglycaemia unless careful adjustments in medication are performed. Frequent blood glucose monitoring is imperative, and results must be interpreted with caution because capillary blood glucose meter results may be less accurate at high elevations and low temperatures. It is also important to undergo pre-travel screening to rule out possible contraindications owing to chronic diabetes complications and make well-informed decisions about risks. Despite the risks, healthy, physically fit and well-prepared individuals with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes who are capable of advanced self-management can be encouraged to participate in these activities and attain their summit goals. Moreover, trekking at high altitude can serve as an effective means to engage in physical activity and to increase confidence with fundamental diabetes self-management skills.

Climbing Kilimanjaro for Diabetes

Top tips for Climbing Kilimanjaro for Diabetes

Know yourself: how do your bloods react to climbing? Is it different when you are pushing yourself compared to taking it easy? Do you typically stay steady? Go up? Go down? Play at an indoor wall and find out what you should expect of your body.

How long is it going to take for you and your partner to top out? Are you confident you’ll make the top? How long can you go without food/ a blood sugar check? If in doubt carry food and a blood sugar meter.

Don’t have pockets that can be used? Try a small running backpack, they are slim and don’t tend to get in the way. (Unless you’re in a chimney!)

On big mountain routes having food that doesn’t require insulin can be helpful as that means no tentative injecting 150m off the ground!

Climbing with a Diabetic? Climbers with diabetes do well on Mount Kilimanjaro

Most of the time it’s not going to be anything to worry about, but it’s worth knowing how they monitor their blood sugars and what to look out for it they go low (Hypo). Make sure there is time in the day to check blood sugars and eat and be aware that there might need to be unscheduled stops. Also don’t be surprised if they turn up with a kilo of sugar and insist on carrying it all with them!

For diabetic climbers, the Diabetes Federation of Ireland Expedition to Kilimanjaro (4559 m) provided some insight into the possible risks of severe altitude. Altitude sickness is not specifically caused by diabetes, according to the well-validated Lake Louise scoring system, which found that both diabetic and non-diabetic climbers experienced the same frequency of symptoms. Only the non-diabetic group experienced severe altitude-related complications, such as high-altitude pulmonary oedema and high-altitude cerebral oedema. Retinal hemorrhages, which have been reported to happen in one-third of climbers above 5000 m,5 happened in two diabetic climbers (one of whom had pre-existing retinopathy) and three non-diabetic climbers.

Although the average height obtained was lower in the diabetic group, six out of sixteen persons with diabetes and sixteen out of twenty-two climbers without diabetes were able to reach the mountain’s peak.

Despite the fact that the diabetic climbers did not report more frequent altitude issues, several of this group had significant challenges. The identification of hypoglycemia was hampered by some altitude sickness symptoms, such as headache and lightheadedness, as well as paraesthesia brought on by taking acetazolamide to prevent AMS. Patients relied more on the findings of blood glucose tests since there were no reliable warning indications for hypoglycaemia.

However, at elevations over 3700 m, blood glucose meters showed values that were 60-80% of conventional glucose solutions, particularly when the ambient temperature was low, which is consistent with earlier studies6-8. 3 When the temperature dropped to 22°C the night before the summit attempt, some meters stopped working entirely. Because of this, precise glycemic control was unattainable.

How do you prepare for your climb if you are diabetic?

You must keep up a healthy lifestyle and walk between 30 and 40 kilometers every week to keep your body in shape. To become accustomed to carrying a backpack up a mountain, you may also go on weekend-long hikes or sometimes ascend a flight of stairs with a heavy backpack on your back. Read about the Kilimanjaro training plan here.

How to manage your blood sugar levels & know what to eat and drink while climbing?

Spending between 7 and 8 hours a day climbing constantly will make it difficult to maintain blood sugar balance. On Kilimanjaro, it may be challenging to strike a balance between the amount of activity and the food that is provided.

Your blood sugar should be tightly under control, and you should check it frequently. After determining what to eat and how much insulin to take, your blood sugar level should be well under control.

Advise for diabetics that want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro

Every diabetic who is having difficulty, in my opinion, has to establish a lifestyle pattern that includes getting up in the morning, checking your blood sugar, determining how much insulin you need, and planning your day’s meals. You must establish and adhere to a daily living regimen. A diabetic must practice discipline. You won’t be able to deal with it for 50 years if you don’t have a routine and discipline.

Here are some tips for climbing Kilimanjaro with diabetes:

  • Get medical clearance from your doctor before the trip. Discuss medication adjustments, blood sugar monitoring, and an emergency plan.
  • Bring 2-3 times the normal amount of diabetes supplies and medications. Pack extra insulin, test strips, lancets, glucose tabs, etc.
  • Monitor blood sugar frequently, especially during the climb and at higher altitudes. The altitude, exertion, and change in diet can affect blood sugar levels.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water. Dehydration can increase the risk of hyperglycemia.
  • Eat regular, carb-rich snacks like energy bars, glucose gels, or candies to maintain energy levels. Keep quick-acting carbs on hand.
  • Watch for signs of acute mountain sickness like headaches, nausea, fatigue. This can mimic low blood sugar. Check glucose levels to be sure.
  • Adjust insulin dosing for increased activity. You may need less insulin due to the sustained exercise while climbing.
  • Bring portable equipment like insulin pens instead of pumps, which can malfunction at high altitude.
  • Wear proper footwear and check feet often to avoid injury and infection.
  • Allow time to acclimatize to the altitude before attempting summit day.

Diabetes Can’t stop you from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

With careful preparation and vigilant blood sugar management, diabetics can successfully summit Kilimanjaro. Work closely with your doctor to reduce risks and have a plan for handling any diabetes-related issues.

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Josephat Mashehe is a seasoned Kilimanjaro guide who offers his expertise to those looking to conquer Africa's highest peak. With years of experience under his belt, Josephat provides comprehensive guidance, ensuring a safe and memorable journey for adventurers. His services include detailed planning, safety measures, and on-site assistance, making him an invaluable asset for anyone aiming to tackle the challenging climb of Mount Kilimanjaro.
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