Thumbnail image of: Diabetes Action Plan: Illustration, page 1
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Diabetes: Infections

What infections are common with diabetes?

If you have diabetes, you have a higher risk of getting infections than people who don’t have diabetes. You are more likely to get:

  • Infections caused by bacteria, such as bladder or kidney infections, boils (infected lumps under your skin), styes (infected lumps on your eyelid), gum disease and other mouth infections, foot infections, or infected cuts and sores
  • Fungal infections, such as thrush, athlete’s foot, ringworm, nail infections, or vaginal yeast infections

If you get an infection caused by a virus, such as the flu, you’re more likely to have severe symptoms or problems.

Even a small cut, on your foot for example, may not heal well and may become a serious, life or limb-threatening problem.

What is the cause?

Diabetes may cause more infections because:

  • High blood sugar levels seem to help the growth of some bacteria and yeast.
  • High blood sugar levels may make it harder for the immune system to fight infections.
  • Poor blood flow, especially to the feet and lower legs, can make it hard for the body to fight infection in even small scrapes and cuts.
  • You may not feel injuries to your feet, legs, or hands because of nerve damage and numbness. Without treatment the injuries may get infected.

What are the symptoms?

Depending on the type of infection and where it is in the body, symptoms may include:

  • Redness, swelling, and skin that feels hot to the touch
  • Itching
  • Rash
  • Red streaks that spread away from the wound or sore
  • Swollen and painful lumps or pus-filled sores
  • Painful urination or urinating more often
  • Fever
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Tests may include:

  • Tests of a sample of pus
  • A biopsy, which is the removal of a small sample of infected tissue for testing
  • Blood and urine tests
  • X-rays

How is it treated?

Your healthcare provider will prescribe antibiotics or other medicine to treat the infection. Because the infection may get worse more quickly if your sugar is high, your blood sugar must be controlled. Besides medicine to fight the infection, your treatment may include IV fluids and insulin to quickly get your blood sugar under control, even if you don’t normally use insulin. Vomiting or diarrhea may cause low blood sugar, especially if you aren’t able to eat. You may need to stay in the hospital, or check with your healthcare provider often.

The most important way to prevent amputation or life-threatening problems is to follow your provider’s instructions for good control of your blood sugar

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:

  • Ask your healthcare provider how to care for the infected area. For example, your provider may recommend keeping the infected area up on pillows (above the level of your heart) when you sit or lie down to decrease swelling and pain.

Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

How can I help prevent infections?

  • Follow your provider’s instructions for good skin care and keep your blood sugar under good control.
  • Wear broad, flat shoes that fit well. Never go barefoot, not even in the house. Even minor cuts can become seriously infected. Use soap and water to clean minor cuts.
  • Examine your feet at the end of each day to make sure there are no reddened areas, cuts, or scrapes that could become infected. A mirror can help you see all surfaces of your feet. You may see cuts, sores, or blisters you cannot feel because of nerve damage.
  • If you smoke, try to quit. Smoking causes poor blood flow and slows the healing of wounds. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to quit smoking.
  • Keep your immunizations, like flu and pneumococcal shots, up to date. Ask your healthcare provider if your shots are all current.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-02-04
Last reviewed: 2015-01-08
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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