Complications of Diabetes: Infections

How do infections occur as a complication of diabetes?

Diabetics are especially at risk of getting the following types of infections:

  • bladder or kidney infections
  • thrush, gum disease, and other mouth infections
  • fungal infections
  • infections of the vagina
  • wound infections
  • foot infections.

Even a small cut on the foot, for example, may not heal well and may develop into a potentially life- threatening problem.

There are several reasons you may have more infections because of your diabetes:

  • You may not be aware of injuries to your feet, legs, or hands because of numbness and the injuries may become infected.
  • High blood sugar levels seem to help the growth of some bacteria and yeast.
  • High blood sugar levels may keep white blood cells from fighting infections well.
  • Poor blood supply to feet and legs can prevent the body's immune system from fighting off infection in even small scrapes and cuts.
How are the infections treated?

Your diabetes must be controlled. Your health care provider may prescribe specific medicine for your infection. Your infection may take longer to heal than an infection in a non-diabetic. You may need to have blood tests and frequent follow-up visits.

How can I take care of myself?
  • Be aware of your increased risk of infections and the serious complications of infections that are not treated.
  • Watch for sores in your mouth or on your lips. White, painful patches on your tongue or in your mouth may be thrush. Thrush is a fungal infection.
  • Tell your health care provider about any discharge from the vagina or penis, changes in the color or odor of your urine, or burning or painful urination.
  • See your provider right away if you suspect something is wrong (for example, you have a fever) or if a minor injury is not healing. Immediately report any tingling, numbness, or change in color or sensation in your fingertips and toes.
How can I avoid getting foot infections?
  • Never go barefoot. Even minor cuts can become seriously infected.
  • Examine your feet with a mirror at the end of each day to make sure there are no reddened areas, cuts, or scrapes that could become infected. You may see cuts or sores you cannot feel because of nerve damage.
  • After bathing, carefully dry between your toes to prevent skin breakdown. Use lotion to moisturize the skin. Skin that is dry and cracked offers openings for bacteria to enter and cause infection.
  • Do not try to treat corns or calluses by yourself. Especially do not treat them with razorblades or chemical products.
  • Wear well-fitting socks and shoes to protect your feet from injury.
  • Ask your doctor if you should see a podiatrist (foot doctor) for foot care.

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Adapted from content provided by iMcKesson, LLC
Review Date: 6/10/01