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Whittington Health NHSUCL

Infections

Overview

Viruses magnified.

Why are infections more common in diabetes?

People with diabetes can be more prone to having infection. This can be due to:

  • reduced blood supply to areas of the body, slowing down the healing process
  • reduced function of the small nerves that help to coordinate a healthy response to infection
  • high glucose levels which may provide fuel for bacteria, viruses and fungi.

What are the most common infections in diabetes?

  • urine infections, causing discomfort on passing urine, or going to the toilet more often
  • skin infections, particularly involving the feet
  • gum disease, causing gum pain or bleeding
  • thrush, causing discharge and vaginal itching
  • chest infections, causing a cough, fever and breathing difficulties.

Will I develop problems with infections?

The first clue to the diagnosis of diabetes may be recurrent infections. Frequent infections tend to happen if the blood glucose level is particularly high.

With lower blood glucose levels, recurrent infections are less common and you may not have a problem.

However, infections can be more severe in diabetes. The stress of an infection can increase the body's need for insulin and lead to temporarily high blood glucose levels.

If you think you are coming down with an infection, contact your doctor as soon as possible to see if you may need treatment.

If your GP surgery is closed, you can contact NHS 111 or your local out-of-hours provider for advice.

If you are feeling unwell and need a telephone health assessment, please call the NHS 111 service free of charge from any phone by dialling "1 1 1".

What is thrush?

Thrush is a yeast infection that commonly affects the sexual organs. It is not a sexually transmitted disease – it is just caused by an overgrowth of organisms that normally live in these areas.

High blood glucose levels encourage overgrowth so it can be more common in people with diabetes.

In women it can cause itchiness in the vagina, discomfort when passing urine or having sex and a white discharge.

In men it may cause itchiness, discomfort when passing urine or a rash around the penis.

It is easy to treat with medication you can get from your pharmacist or GP. 

Keeping good control of blood glucose levels will help to lower the risk of getting fungal infections like thrush.

See also above: Prevention | Checks & tests | Complications | Treatment | Links