6 Common Infections for Those Living with Diabetes
When you live with diabetes, you are at higher risk for a number of serious health complications, including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and nerve damage than those without diabetes. You also happen to be more likely to develop certain infections, particularly if your blood sugar is not properly tested and managed and tends to run high. The more often and longer your periods of high blood sugar are, the higher your risk of infection becomes.
Diabetes-related infections are an important health concern because if they go unnoticed or are left untreated, they can lead to serious medical problems. In this post, we’ll dig into the causes of diabetes-related infections, the most common types, and what you can do to help avoid them.
Does diabetes cause infections?
No, diabetes does not cause infections. However, living with the disease does make you more prone to infections and can have an impact on how quickly your body heals from infection.
How does diabetes increase the risk of infection?
Diabetes is a chronic condition in which the body is either unable to produce the hormone insulin or cannot properly use the insulin it does produce to turn blood sugar into energy. This leads to a gradual build-up of glucose in the bloodstream. When it elevates to a certain point – 126 milligrams per deciliter or higher – it indicates that a person has diabetes.
Diabetes leads to an increased risk of infection because when blood sugar becomes elevated, particularly over an extended period, it can prevent your immune system from functioning the way it should. This happens for a number of reasons.
- Diabetes can damage the blood vessels that carry white blood cells (those that fight off infection and disease) throughout the body. Therefore, when the body senses an infection, it’s unable to get enough white blood cells to the site to fight off the bacteria causing it. This allows the bacteria to take stronger hold and grow within the body.
- Diabetes can also cause nerve damage, often in extremities like the feet and hands. This deadens feeling in these areas, so a person may have a cut or blister and not notice it needs to be treated. When not properly cared for these small wounds can become serious infections. Additionally, because of impeded circulation due to diabetes, open wounds and sores can take longer to heal than they would normally, again increasing the risk of infection.
6 infections diabetics are most likely to experience.
- Complications from flu and pneumonia
Again, diabetes does not make someone more likely to catch the flu. However, it does make it more likely that a person’s immune system will have a harder time going to work against it. Severe sinus infections and dangerous pneumonia can develop. Someone with diabetes is more likely to be hospitalized with the flu than someone who is not. If you have diabetes and catch the flu, monitor your symptoms carefully and test your blood sugar more often as illness can make it more difficult to manage.
- Foot infections
Foot infections are common because high blood sugar can damage the blood vessels leading to the extremities. This can cause a sensation of tingling or numbness which may prevent you from realizing there is a cut in your foot. Additionally, because blood flow is restricted cuts are likely to take longer to heal, which contributes to the risk of infection.
It is important for those with diabetes to perform regular foot exams to spot any open wounds and treat them properly to avoid infection.
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
People with diabetes are more likely to contract urinary tract infections because high blood glucose can cause excess sugar to build up in the urine. Sugar is a lightning rod for infection, so if there is more sugar in the urinary tract, there’s a higher risk of infection. If left untreated things can get even worse as the urinary tract includes the kidneys and if the infection spreads to them, it can cause even more serious problems.
Most UTIs remain in the bladder and symptoms can include fever, frequent need to urinate, burning sensation during urination and pain in the abdomen. The symptoms of kidney infection, which is far more dangerous, include severe abdominal or groin pain, fever, chills, nausea, and vomiting.
If you believe you might have a UTI, see your doctor right away. In most cases, UTI infections are easy to cure and the sooner you begin treatment, the better.
- Fungal infections on the skin and fingernails
Diabetes also makes you more prone to fungal infections. This often occurs beneath the finger and toenails, as well as on the skin in various parts of the body, including yeast infections in women. Fungi, particularly yeast, feed on sugar, so when blood sugar is elevated, a person is far more likely to develop these fungal infections. Examples include athlete’s foot, vaginal yeast infections, fungal nail infections and ringworm.
- Ear, nose and throat infections
These fungal infections occur in the ear, nose and throat, and are almost exclusively seen in people who are living with diabetes. Symptoms include severe ear pain and possibly discharge, throat pain and congestion.
- Surgical site infections
Because diabetes can weaken the immune system, those living with it are at greater risk of infection following a surgery. This can lead to extended hospital stays due to longer periods of recovery.
What can I do to minimize my risk of infection?
The immune system is weakened by too much sugar in the bloodstream, so the best thing you can do to minimize the risk of infection is to keep your blood sugar under control.
- Test and monitor your blood sugar regularly using a glucose meter and test strips or a doctor-prescribed continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device.
- Administer insulin by syringe, insulin pen or prescribed insulin pump according to your physician’s instructions. Also follow instructions for any other medication prescribed by your diabetes physician.
- Eat a diabetes-friendly diet and get ample activity to help control blood both weight and blood sugar.
You can also take extra precautions to avoid infection, including;
- Wash your hands frequently and maintain good personal hygiene.
- Wear clean socks and comfortable shoes and examine your feet regularly.
- Proper toilet hygiene and ample fluid intake will help prevent yeast infections.
- Get a flu vaccine each year.
- Never share diabetes syringes, pens, lancets, or test strips
Living with diabetes compromises your immune system and increases the risk of infection. On the plus side, there are things you can do to minimize your personal risk and at the top of this list is maintaining proper blood sugar control. If you notice signs of a possible infection or notice a cut that will not heal properly, see your physician. Many infections can be treated with oral or topical antibiotics, and it will be important to maintain proper blood sugar control while fighting any infection to speed the healing process.