If you are diabetic, or you know someone who is, you might be familiar with the correlation between diabetes and recurrent UTIs. Generally, urinary tract infections are more common, more severe, and carry worse outcomes for people with diabetes. But why?
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. This means that type 1 diabetes causes the immune system to “attack itself”, destroying insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The destruction of insulin-producing cells makes it so that diabetics must rely on insulin injections to break down sugars they consume on a day to day basis. People with autoimmune diseases, in general, have weaker immune systems, which makes them more susceptible to infection (hence, more UTIs). Along with decreased immunity, people with diabetes often suffer from bad circulation. Amy Campbell from Diabetes Self Management explains how this poor circulation reduces white blood cells’ ability to travel throughout the body and fight off infection, again leading to increased frequency and severity of UTIs.
Another explanation for diabetics’ increased risk of getting UTIs is high levels of glucose in the urine. According to thediabetescoucil.com, UTI risk increases for all diabetics because “extra sugar in the urine builds up, causing the growth of extra bacteria which leads to infection in the bladder.” The more glucose in the urine, the higher the risk of getting a UTI.
Urinary tract infections can often result from not fully emptying the bladder. People with diabetes commonly experience autonomic neuropathy, a form of nerve damage that affects the bladder, intestinal tract, and genitals. Autonomic neuropathy makes it so that the bladder doesn’t respond regularly to pressure, and so urine may stay longer than normal in the bladder and lead to urinary tract infections.
It’s worth noting that some experts argue that only people with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of UTIs. Generally, though, experts agree that the better control someone with diabetes has over their blood sugar levels, the less likely they are to get a UTI.