Diabetes increases the chances of developing certain types of infections.
This happens as high blood sugar levels can weaken the immune system and its defenses in people who suffer from diabetes.
In addition, some diabetes-related health issues, such as nerve damage and reduced blood flow to the extremities, increase the body’s vulnerability to infection.
What infections are most likely to occur for people with diabetes?
When you have diabetes, you are especially prone to
- foot infections
- yeast infections
- urinary tract infections
- Surgical site infections
In addition, yeast cells (Candida albicans) are more likely to colonize the mucous membranes (e.g., mouth, vagina, nose) in people with diabetes. These Candida cells then interfere with the normal infection-fighting action of white blood cells. With white blood cells impaired, Candida can replicate unchecked, causing yeast infections. High blood sugar levels contribute to this process.
Diabetes-related conditions can further increase the risk of infection
Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage) causes problems with sensation, particularly in the feet. This lack of sensation sometimes means foot injuries go unnoticed. Untreated injuries can lead to infection. Some types of neuropathy can also lead to dry, cracked skin, which allows a convenient entry point for infection into the body.
People with diabetes often have low blood flow to the extremities. With less blood flow, the body is less able to mobilize normal immune defenses and nutrients that promote the body’s ability to fight infection and promote healing.
Why are infections risky for people with diabetes?
People with diabetes are more adversely affected when they get an infection than someone without the disease because you have weakened immune defenses in diabetes. Studies have shown that even those who have minimally elevated blood sugar levels experience worse outcomes with infections. Hospitalized patients who have diabetes do not necessarily have a higher mortality rate due to infections, but they do face longer hospitalization and recovery times.
What can be done to avoid infections?
One of the most important things that you can do to avoid infections is to practice careful foot care. In addition to wearing shoes and socks to avoid minor bumps and scrapes, your feet should be examined daily for any blisters, cuts, scrapes, sores or other skin problems that could allow an infection to develop.
Meticulous foot and skincare are needed to ensure that minor cuts and scrapes do not turn into ulcerated infections that can migrate into the bloodstream and cause major problems.
Watch for symptoms of infection
Early diagnosis and prompt treatment of infections are important. People with diabetes should be vigilant about paying attention to any changes in their bodies that could signal an infection.
Some examples of body changes that you should be alert to can include
- a rise in body temperature or change in blood sugars;
- foul-smelling vaginal discharge;
- pain with urination, or cloudy, bloody or foul-smelling urine;
- difficulty or painful swallowing;
- changes in bowel habits;
- and warmth or redness at any cut or scrape, including minor trauma locations and surgical sites.
Any of these symptoms should be noted and mentioned to the patient’s health care team.
Diagnosing and Treating Infections
Your health care provider may perform one or more tests to diagnose infection, including blood tests, microscopic examination of secretions, urine dipstick tests, X-rays and physical examination.