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Diabetes is a disease that can have far-reaching health consequences that go beyond just your blood sugar levels.
If you or a loved one has diabetes, even if it’s well-controlled, you need to be aware of possible complications, including kidney disease and heart disease.
But infection is also a very real concern. In fact, living with diabetes puts you at greater risk of skin and respiratory infections.
See, high blood sugar weakens your immune system, leaving you a wide-open target for infectious bacteria. And ironically, once you get an infection, that same weak immune system means it takes a long time for it to heal. Hospitalizations could be longer than normal.
That means if living with diabetes, you must be vigilant about more than your blood sugar. You must know the signs of infection, and catch them early so that treatment can take place before a minor infection turns deadly.
3 types of infection to watch for
Flu and pneumonia. Persons with elevated blood sugar can be more severely affected by common infections, like influenza and pneumonia.
Research has shown that high blood sugar levels release destructive molecules known as dicarbonyls that interfere with the body’s natural infection-control defenses.
Most people can easily catch the flu from being around someone who has it, or pneumonia the same way (through exposure to the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacterium). You can bet that someone with diabetes will be the first to catch it.
If you have a fever, sneezing, runny nose or cough, don’t dismiss it. See your doctor right away. Get your vitamin D levels while you’re there. Vitamin D is vital to a healthy immune response and a deficiency can make diabetes four times as dangerous.
Yeast and urinary tract infections. High blood sugar encourages the growth of Candida Albicans, the species of yeast that, if left unchecked, causes yeast infections.
These yeast cells are more likely to grow in the mucous membranes of people with diabetes, most often in the vagina, but also in the mouth and nose. They interfere with the infection-fighting action of white blood cells, which allows them to replicate without interference, causing yeast infections.
A vaginal yeast infection is intensely uncomfortable, causing irritation, discharge, and extreme itchiness. If symptoms aren’t relieved by over-the-counter creams or suppositories, or if you develop other symptoms like fever, it’s time to see your doctor.
Diabetic neuropathy. People with diabetes are quite prone to nerve damage in the feet, which causes a lack of sensation. It makes it difficult to walk safely since you can’t really feel the ground under your feet.
This same lack of sensation sometimes means that foot injuries go unnoticed and untreated. Also, some types of neuropathy can cause dry, cracked skin, which offers a convenient entry point for germs and infection to get into the body.
If you supplement, try alpha-lipoic acid to strengthen your defenses. In Germany, it’s used intravenously for patients with neuropathy with success.
Fortunately, there are precautions you can take that can greatly reduce the likelihood of your contracting these infections.
- The Centers for Disease Control strongly recommend a flu shot for anyone with diabetes. However, they state that it should be an injectable vaccine, and not a Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (LAIV) administered as a nasal spray.
Here are the everyday preventive measures recommended by the CDC for people with diabetes.
- You can reduce the risk of urinary tract infections, by drinking plenty of water to dilute your urine and ensure you void your bladder frequently. This helps flush bacteria from the urinary tract (an especially helpful habit following sex). Also drinking cranberry juice has been shown to help decrease UTIs.
- Finally, people with diabetes need to practice excellent foot care. This means inspecting them closely in the morning and at bedtime. Without sensation, injuries and foreign objects can easily go unnoticed.
Be sure to wear socks and shoes that fit well and don’t irritate the feet. Again, blisters an irritations can easily progress to infection before they are noticed.
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- Diabetes increases risks for certain infections — Healio
- What Infections Are You at Risk for With Diabetes? — Verywell Health
- High blood sugar of diabetes can cause immune system malfunction, triggering infection — Case Western Reserve University
- Modification of β-Defensin-2 by Dicarbonyls Methylglyoxal and Glyoxal Inhibits Antibacterial and Chemotactic Function In Vitro — PLoS ONE
- Differences in the Pattern of Antibiotic Prescription Profile and Recurrence Rate for Possible Urinary Tract Infections in Women With and Without Diabetes — Diabetes Care
- Flu and People with Diabetes — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention