Infections

Diabetes can affect many different parts of your body. This is especially true if your blood sugar remains high. People with diabetes are at a greater risk of infection compared to those without diabetes.1

Why are people with diabetes more prone to infection?

Doctors think there are several reasons why diabetes may lead to infection. Diabetes can cause different things in your body to decrease or lose function.

High blood sugar (hyperglycemia)

Your immune system works to keep you healthy. Uncontrolled blood sugar in diabetes can change your immune system function. This makes your body less able to fight infection. Doctors think that high blood sugar is the biggest reason those with diabetes are at a higher risk for infection.2,3

Problems with the vessels

High blood sugar that results from diabetes can damage your blood vessels. Think of sugar as sharp crystals inside your vessels. Over time, the sharp sugar damages the vessels. When the vessels are injured, the blood flow inside them is slowed. As a result, blood cannot flow as well to help heal an injury. This is sometimes called vascular insufficiency.2,3

A buildup of plaque in the blood vessels (known as atherosclerosis) can also slow wound healing. This plaque buildup is common in diabetes.4

Nerve damage

Diabetes can lead to nerve damage, also called neuropathy. Nerves that carry sensation can be damaged, making it hard for you to feel certain areas of your body. In diabetes, your feet and legs are common areas to have this damage.2,3

If the sensation is decreased, you can have an injury or wound and not feel it. If the injury or wound is left untreated, it can lead to infection.2,3

What common infections am I at risk for?

Some of the most common infections for those with diabetes include:2,3

  • Foot infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Yeast infections in the mouth (known as thrush)
  • Vaginal yeast infections in women
  • Lung infections

When should I call my doctor?

Recognizing the signs of infections is important. This ensures you can get the help you need before you get sick. Some of the signs of an infection may include:2

  • Fever, body aches, or chills
  • Swelling, redness, heat, or worse pain around a cut, scrape, sore, or wound
  • Pus draining from a cut, scrape, sore, or wound
  • Pain with urination or an increased need to urinate
  • Itching or unusual vaginal discharge
  • White coating or patches on your tongue or in your mouth

Prevention

There are methods to help you prevent infection if you have diabetes. Your doctor may have other actions to consider.

General prevention

One of the most important ways to help prevent infection with diabetes is keeping your blood sugar levels under control. Work with your doctor to find the best ways to do this. You may need to use a combination of lifestyle changes and drugs to get your blood sugar under control.

Other methods to prevent infection may include:2,3

  • Talk to your doctor about getting a flu shot every year.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Keep your skin clean and dry.
  • If you get a cut or scrape, clean it well. Contact your doctor if it does not heal.
  • If you smoke, consider quitting. Ask your doctor for ways to help you quit.
  • Brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily.

Take care of your feet

Check your feet daily, at the direction of your doctor. Look closely for cuts, sores, blisters, or other problems.5

  • Wash your feet in warm water daily and pat dry completely. Check the water temperature with your hand or elbow to make sure it is not hot.
  • Avoid soaking your feet. This can lead to dry skin over time.
  • Use lotion to keep your feet well moisturized.
  • Trim your toenails according to the direction of your doctor.
  • Wear socks that fit well, and change them daily.
  • Make sure your shoes fit properly. Feel the inside of your shoe before putting it on to make sure nothing is in your shoe that should not be there.
  • Avoid walking barefoot at all times. Slippers may be a good option for indoor use.

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Written by: Katie Murphy | Last reviewed: March 2021.