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Frequent Infections

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: October 2020.

Frequent infections can be a sign of diabetes. Uncontrolled high blood glucose can weaken the body’s immune system and make it hard for it to fight many different types of infections. High sugar levels in the blood and organs makes it easier for bacteria to grow and infections to develop more quickly.1

People who have had diabetes for a long time may have nerve damage and reduced blood flow to their arms, hands, legs, and feet. This also increases the risk for infection.1

Infections tend to be more severe in people with diabetes. One study found that people with type 2 diabetes were twice as likely to be hospitalized with an infection than people without diabetes.2

Common infections in people with type 2 diabetes

Knowing what types of infections are common in people with type 2 diabetes can lead to early diagnosis and treatment. This can help prevent infections from becoming more serious and causing long-term or serious complications.

The most common types of infections that occur in people with diabetes include:1-3

  • Foot infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Fungal infections of the ear, nose, and throat
  • Infections of the skin, nails, and soft tissues
  • Influenza (flu) and pneumonia

Foot infections

Foot infections are 1 of the most common complications and leading causes of hospitalization in people with type 2 diabetes.4

Foot problems in people with diabetes are usually caused by neuropathy, or nerve damage. This can cause tingling, pain, or weakness in 1 or both feet. Neuropathy can also cause loss of feeling, so you might not notice if you have a cut, sore, or wound on your foot. Diabetes also causes the blood vessels in the feet and leg to narrow and harden. This poor blood flow makes it harder for your immune system to get to your feet to fight off infections.5

These increased risks are why it is important for people with diabetes to routinely check their feet. If you have cuts, sores, or wounds on 1 or both of your feet, contact your doctor. If left untreated, foot infections can lead to more serious bone infections, amputation, and even death.4

Urinary tract infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common in people with diabetes. High blood sugar can lead to sugar in the urine, which encourages the growth of bacteria. People with diabetes often experience increased urination, which can also increase the risk of UTIs. If the bladder doesn’t completely empty when you urinate, harmful bacteria can stay in the urinary tract even longer.1

The urinary tract includes the bladder and the kidneys. While most UTIs occur in the bladder, they can turn into kidney infections if not quickly treated. Kidney infections can occur at the same time as a bladder infection or follow a bladder infection. Signs of infection include:4

  • Increased and/or strong urge to urinate
  • Pain or burning feeling when urinating
  • Urine that looks cloudy or has blood in it
  • Strong-smelling urine
  • Pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever or chills
  • Pain in your back, side, or groin

If you have symptoms of a UTI, kidney, or bladder infection, contact your doctor immediately.

Infections of the skin, nails, and soft tissues

People with diabetes are more likely to experience both bacterial and fungal infections. Infections can occur on different areas of the body, including between the toes, around the fingernails and toenails, and on the scalp. Since high blood sugar weakens the immune system and blood flow, it becomes easier for bacteria and fungus to cause infections.6

The most common bacterial infections in people with type 2 diabetes include:6

  • Boils
  • Cellulitis (infections of the skin and underlying tissue)
  • Folliculitis (infections of the hair follicles)
  • Infections around fingernails and toenails
  • Styes (infections of the glands of the eyelids)

Fungal infections are also common in people with diabetes. Fungus feeds on sugar, so the more sugar the body has, the more likely it is to develop these types of infections. The most common fungal infections in people with type 2 diabetes include:6

  • Athlete’s foot
  • Fingernail and toenail infections
  • Ringworm
  • Vaginal yeast infections

If you have symptoms of a bacterial or fungal infection, contact your doctor.

Influenza and pneumonia

Since diabetes weakens the immune system, people with diabetes are at increased risk for the flu and pneumonia. People with diabetes are 6 times more likely to be hospitalized with the flu. People with diabetes are also about 3 times more likely to die from complications caused by the flu and pneumonia.4,7
Common flu symptoms include:7

  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

Pneumonia symptoms vary and depend on how severe the infection is, but they may include:7

  • Cough with thick, colored mucus
  • Chills
  • Fever and sweats
  • Shortness of breath and quick, shallow breathing

If you have symptoms of the flu or pneumonia, contact your doctor right away.

Lowering your risk for infections with type 2 diabetes

There are several simple steps you can take to protect yourself against infections. The first is to keep your blood glucose under control. If you are having trouble controlling your blood glucose, talk to your doctor.

To lower your risk for infections, it is also important to:1

  • Take your medicines as prescribed by your doctor
  • Practice good hygiene by washing your hands often
  • Get a flu shot each year. Also talk to your doctor about when to get a pneumonia vaccine.
  • Wear soft, covered footwear and change your socks every day. Examine your feet and skin each day for any changes.
  • Seek medical care as soon as you have any signs of an infection

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