Having diabetes greatly increases the risk of being hospitalized for an infection, according to new research published in the journal Diabetologia.
Infections aren’t typically viewed as a common diabetes complication, such as those that can affect the kidneys, eyes, nerve function in the limbs, and overall cardiovascular health. But it has long been known that elevated blood glucose levels may make it more difficult for the immune system to fight off infections, and that high glucose can also reduce the body’s ability to heal from wounds or other injuries. For the latest study, researchers were interested in looking specifically at how having diabetes affected the risk of hospitalization related to an infection, as well the risk of death during the hospital stay.
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Increased risk for hospitalization, death from infection
The researchers looked at data from 12,379 participants in a large study on cardiovascular health, which examined a variety of health outcomes. The average age of participants was 54.5 years, and 54.3% were women. During a follow-up period that lasted a median of 23.8 years, there were 4,229 hospitalizations related to infection. After adjusting for differences between participants with diabetes and those without diabetes that could affect the risk for infection (such as age and other health conditions), the researchers found that people with diabetes at the beginning of the study were 67% more likely to be hospitalized for an infection. This increased risk was fairly consistent across many different types of infection, but was especially high when it came to foot infections, for which people with diabetes were about six times as likely to be hospitalized. Diabetes increased the risk for hospitalization to a greater degree among younger people, and among Black people compared with other racial or ethnic groups.
The risk for death due to infection was low overall, with only 362 such deaths recorded over the course of the study period. Still, the risk of dying due to infection was 72% higher in people with diabetes compared with participants without diabetes.
The researchers wrote that the increased risk for hospitalization for infection among people with diabetes suggests not only the importance of good blood glucose control, but also the importance of preventing infections when possible and getting treatment as quickly as possible when they occur. This applies especially to foot infections, and reinforces recommendations that people with diabetes should examine their feet regularly for any signs of injury of infection — or any issue that may lead to an infection, such as cracked or broken skin.
Common signs of an infection include redness, swelling, and pain, but you may not feel any pain if you have reduced sensation in your feet due to nerve damage. If you think you may have an infection in your feet or anywhere else in your body, don’t hesitate to visit your doctor — or, if you’re experiencing signs of a more severe infection like fever, to seek urgent or emergency care as appropriate.
Want to learn more about managing blood glucose? See our “Blood Sugar Chart,” then read “What Is a Normal Blood Sugar Level?” and “Strike the Spike II: How to Manage High Blood Glucose After Meals.”