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While it seems that a UTI may be the least of the risk concerns for diabetics, the complications that arise from a UTI are compounded for diabetics.

Diabetes is serious, a potential lifelong ailment, and it should be treated as such. So many changes to the patient’s lifestyle are necessary to avoid complications, which can still occur easily. Uncontrolled blood sugar can even lead to death, if the patient doesn’t make changes or it’s left untreated. One problem that may arise more frequently in diabetics is the development of a urinary tract infection.

While this may not seem related, and it might seem like no big deal compared to some other complications, the fact is that there’s a correlation between type 2 diabetes and UTIs that should be addressed.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is defined as the lack of control over blood sugar. When food is consumed, it is converted into fuel for the body, in the form of sugar. When the body can’t process that sugar properly, it leads to diabetes. A lot of people assume that diabetes is just high blood sugar, but that’s not true. Hypoglycemia, or chronic low blood sugar, is also a type of diabetes, since it is still a condition in which blood sugar is not in control.

When discussing high blood sugar, however, there are two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes involves the pancreas and its inability to produce insulin, the hormone that allows the body to process sugar as fuel. It’s an autoimmune dysfunction in which the body has launched an attack against the insulin until the pancreas no longer produces it. The cause is still unknown, and patients have to take insulin injections.

In type 2 diabetes, the body has what is called insulin resistance. The pancreas still makes insulin, but the body has trouble processing it. There are medications that help, but these individuals need to stick to a very tight regimen and diet that excludes excess carbohydrates and simple sugars. More than nine out of ten diabetics have type 2, and in many cases, the condition is caused by being overweight. In fact, estimates show that about two thirds of type 2 diabetics could reverse the condition by losing weight. Large amounts of fat create higher resistance to insulin, and this has been shown in type 1 diabetics as well.

Complications from diabetes

Having high blood sugar leads to a number of complications, and diabetics must carefully watch changes to health and their daily condition to avoid dangerous circumstances.

  • Diabetic coma. If the blood sugar gets too high, it could send the patient into a coma.
  • Neuropathy. People with uncontrolled blood sugar can experience vast amounts of nerve damage and death, especially in the extremities, leading to phantom sensations, pain, and numbness.
  • Poor circulation. The blood becomes heavy and thick with a coating of sugar around the red blood cells and doesn’t flow as well, leading to cold and numbness in the extremities, which could eventually cause tissue death.
  •  Loss of limbs. With neuropathy and poor circulation, an injury in a toe could go unnoticed and fester, leading to the loss of the digit or even the limb, if the blood gets infected.
  • Ketoacidosis. This is a condition in which, because the body can’t process sugar, it uses acid to eat protein, or muscle mass, to get energy. Patients require hospitalization for treatment and could die.
  • Blindness. Diabetes causes blood vessels to grow and burst in the eyes, leads to retinal detachment, and other complications that cause scar tissue to form and, eventually, the patient can go blind.
  • Immune system changes. Because diabetes is an autoimmune disease, especially in type 1 patients, the immune system may not function properly, leading to greater risk of infection and difficulty healing from a sickness.
  • Kidney failure. Because the kidneys are working harder to remove excess sugar from the body as waste, and this can lead to clogging, kidneys can fail, leading to the need for dialysis or even death.

Diabetes and UTIs

Several issues arise in people with diabetes who don’t tightly control their blood sugar, which can cause a UTI. All of these factors make them more likely to develop the infection.

  • Excess sugar in the blood. The kidneys work hard to filter out the excess, which leads to additional fluid also being drained. Aside from causing dehydration, which also increases the risk of a UTI, this also means that high blood sugar leads to greater frequency and urgency in the need to urinate. Because this interrupts other tasks, the patient may hold the urine and not go immediately, causing greater risk of UTI.
  • Excess sugar in the urine. In addition, sugar is an irritant to the urinary tract, especially the urethra. Expelling sugary urine can cause inflammation and irritation, which makes the urinary tract more susceptible to bacteria.
  • Compromised immune system. Because most diabetics have an impacted immune system that doesn’t function normally, it is harder for the body to fight an infection, meaning that UTIs are more likely to take hold with less substantial amounts of bacteria.
  • Poor dietary habits. In type 2 diabetics, with weight being an issue, it’s possible that poor dietary habits that led to being overweight could impact the risk of a UTI. If the balance of good bacteria in the body is affected by poor diet, it’s easier for bad bacteria, like the E. coli that is often responsible for the infection, to proliferate.

Because diabetics don’t heal as quickly as the average individual, it’s important to catch a UTI early so that it can be properly treated before it reaches the kidneys, which are already at high risk for damage in diabetics. Even better, working to avoid the infection can save a lot of trouble.


While it seems that a UTI may be the least of the risk concerns for diabetics, the complications that arise from a UTI are compounded for diabetics. Therefore, taking preventative measures is necessary. Especially in type 2 diabetes, it’s important to control diet and weight, to maintain proper hygiene, and to see a physician regularly about medication and other options to help reduce risk of UTIs and other issues.

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