Why people with diabetes are more susceptible to recurring UTIs

Mar 11, 2018 | Kimberly Williams

Diabetes & UTIs

UTIs and Diabetes

If you or someone you know has diabetes you may be familiar with the impact it has on urinary health. But what exactly is the relationship between diabetes and UTIs? How does this impact elderly people who are diabetic? What about type 1 and type 2? We’ve got the answers right here.

The link between diabetes and UTIs

UTIs develop when harmful bacteria travel up your body’s drainage system: the urinary tract. If you have diabetes, it can hinder your immune system’s ability to fight off a UTI for the following reasons:

  • Poor circulation of white blood cells and T cells. These cells are the soldiers that search for and destroy invaders like viruses, bacteria, and fungi.  
  • You have neuropathy (nerve damage) that prevents your bladder from fully emptying, caused by weakening muscles around your bladder or malfunctioning signals between your brain and urinary system. Like stagnant swamp water, urine that stays in your body for a prolonged amount of time poses a greater risk of infection.
  • You may have been hospitalized and an indwelling catheter caused a UTI.
  • Sugar in your blood and urine can also contribute to a greater risk for UTI as fungi feed off of excess sugar.

UTIs and sugar

As stated above, fungi or bacteria such as E.coli need nutrients to stay alive. Sugar is something these pathogens love. It’s possible that diabetes causes UTIs when unchecked because of high blood sugar (blood glucose) levels. Lisa N. Hawes, MD, a general urologist in Fulton, Maryland, and a physician spokesperson for the American Urological Association says, "When blood sugar is high, the excess sugar is removed through the urine. This makes a favorable environment for bacterial overgrowth.”

UTIs and elderly people with diabetes

Diabetes and UTIs in elderly people are common for several reasons. Elderly women in particular experience the weakening of muscles around the bladder, making it more difficult to push urine out to empty the bladder entirely. Diabetes causes neuropathy, further exacerbating the issue. Neuropathy can even cause the bladder to lose the ability to sense when it is full, which means holding urine for a longer amount of time, allowing bacteria to grow.

While the exact link between incontinence and diabetes is unknown, it’s possible diabetes can contribute to incontinence through nerve damage, and from obesity putting pressure on your bladder. Elderly people with incontinence are also at risk for a UTI because of the close contact adult briefs have with their skin. These products can introduce bacteria into the urethra.

Type 1 diabetes and UTIs

UTIs can have serious implications for people with type 1 diabetes. With diabetes, your body can’t fight off an infection as well as it should. The infection can easily spread to your kidneys and cause an infection or kidney damage. Even if your blood sugar levels are better than someone without diabetes, you are still at risk. Normal insulin doses may need to be altered while fighting off an UTI with antibiotics. Explain how you manage your diabetes with your doctor.

Type 2 diabetes and UTIs

If you have type 2 diabetes, you are twice as likely to develop a UTI. This could be for a number of reasons. Kimberly G. Brodovicz, DrPH, Diabetes Epidemiology Lead at Merck & Company, proposed that “diabetic neuropathy could lead to bladder dysfunction.” She added, “more glucose in the urine could allow bacteria to reproduce more easily. Another possibility is that patients with type 2 diabetes could have an impaired immune response.” As infections spread easily due to a compromised immune system, maintain blood glucose levels within your target range as much as possible.

Treatment and Prevention

Although having diabetes increases your risk of getting a UTI, there are ways to prevent it:

  • Maintain blood glucose levels within your target range as much as possible.
  • If you experience UTI symptoms see your doctor promptly as an infection can spread more easily if you are diabetic.  
  • UTI symptoms present themselves differently in elderly people, see your doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Eat yogurt, which contains good bacteria or probiotics. You may want to talk to your healthcare provider about probiotic supplements that have Lactobacillus rhamnosus or Lactobacillus reuteri.
  • Wear cotton underwear and breathable clothes.
  • Urinate after sex to flush out harmful bacteria.
  • Do not hold your urine in for too long.
  • Wipe from front to back.

Even if you follow these guidelines to the best of your ability, it may not be enough to keep you in the clear. Need a leg up on UTIs? Uqora has your back.

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