Diabetes increases your risk for certain infections.
Anyone with diabetes knows that managing the condition means watching your blood sugar, your weight, and your diet. It also means being on the lookout for signs of infections. People with diabetes have 21 percent more infections than the general public, and while there are several reasons for increased risk of infection with diabetes, there are also many ways to help prevent them.
High blood sugar levels can weaken your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to infection. Nerve damage and decreased circulation to the extremities, both common complications of diabetes, can also contribute to the risk of infection.
This may sound daunting, but the good news is that controlling blood sugar levels, managing diabetes, and being on the lookout for signs of infection can all help reduce the risk and prevent symptoms from worsening.
People with diabetes are more susceptible to skin infections, urinary tract infections (UTIs), gum disease and yeast infections. Since these problems aren't always visible, it's important to know the other signs so they can be treated as soon as possible. Catching infections in the early stages is key to preventing complications and worsening symptoms.
People with diabetes have an increased risk of foot infection. Peripheral neuropathy is a form of nerve damage that can cause burning pain, tingling, and numbness, most often in the legs and feet. Loss of feeling might mean that a cut or wound becomes infected without a person noticing, and reduced blood flow may make it difficult for the body to fight these infections. It's important to check the bottoms of the feet and the spaces between toes every day so that problems can be identified before they become serious. Issues to look for include:
- Cuts and sores
- Corns and calluses
- Ingrown toenails
- Athlete's foot
- Red or warm spots
A few good habits can be essential in helping to prevent foot infection:
- Wash feet with warm, soapy water every day
- Trim and file toenails regularly
- Wear shoes and socks, especially outdoors
- Keep skin moisturized but do not apply cream or lotion between the toes
High blood sugar levels sometimes mean higher sugar levels in the saliva, which can lead to bacteria growth and subsequently increased plaque. We've been told since childhood that plaque causes cavities, but it can also be a contributing factor in gum disease. In severe cases, gum disease can lead tooth loss, so it's important to catch the symptoms early on so complications can be prevented. Some signs to look for include:
- Red, bleeding, and irritated gums
- Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
- Bad breath
- Loose teeth
Although diabetes can increase a person's chances of developing gum disease, there are still several ways to prevent it:
- Brush at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
- Floss daily
- Avoid sugary snacks and beverages
- Use a soft toothbrush
- See a dentist twice a year, or more if necessary, for a professional tooth cleaning
Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
A UTI, sometimes referred to as a bladder infection, happens when bacteria reach the urinary tract. The urethra, ureters, kidneys, and/or bladder may be infected. UTI's are more common in women than men, but they can affect anyone. Symptoms may include:
- A frequent urge to urinate
- A burning sensation when urinating
- Cloudy, reddish, or strong-smelling urine
- Pelvic pain in women
- Back or side pain
Although a UTI is relatively simple to treat, it's best to avoid one in the first place. Tips for prevention include:
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Wiping from front to back after you go to the bathroom
- Emptying your bladder after intercourse
- Avoiding use of douches, scented sanitary products, and condoms with spermicide
People with diabetes are more likely to develop an overgrowth of yeast, called Candida albicans. Candida thrives in warm, moist places such as under the breasts, between fingers and toes, and in the armpits, and growth can be encouraged by high glucose levels.
Though yeast overgrowth can happen anywhere in the body, for women it most commonly affects the vagina, causing itching and irritation. Additional symptoms include burning, pain, and thick discharge.
Fortunately, there are several ways to help prevent this type of infection. If you think you have a yeast infection, schedule an appointment with your doctor who can advise you on the best course of treatment. In addition to following the tips for preventing a UTI, wash frequently, wear cotton underwear, and avoid tight-fitting undergarments and pantyhose.
By developing good preventative habits, you can help mitigate the increased risk of infection with diabetes. If you do notice any signs of infection, speak to your doctor or Rite Aid Pharmacist right away.
By Joelle Klein
Diabetes Daily, Diabetes and Infections
Verywell Health, What Infections are you at Risk for with Diabetes?
American Diabetes Association, Foot Complications
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Preventing Diabetes Problems
Diabetes Forecast, How to Spot and Prevent Yeast Infections
Mayo Clinic, Urinary tract infection (UTI)