Early Warning Signs of Infection for Diabetics

If you have diabetes, you should be  extra vigilant about the possibility of infection, which can quickly result from a wound or a blister.  Fortunately, this is less likely to occur when you are in good control of your blood sugars. But when your blood sugars are regularly elevated, your all-important infection-fighting white blood cells just don't do the job that they should.

"The white blood cells that normally would be involved in cleaning up the wound don't function as well as they should when the blood sugar is high, and infection sets in," explains Gerald Bernstein, MD, director of the Diabetes Management Program at the Gerald J. Friedman Diabetes Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. When someone with diabetes falls off a bike or trips on the sidewalk and gets a major scrape that would ordinarily take a week to 10 days to go away in a non-diabetic, can easily morph into a problematic infection, he says.

Do you have to worry about every little cut or scrape? No - but be extra vigilant about these areas, the most common ones to get infected: the gums, the feet and, for women, the vaginal area.

Tips for Avoiding Infection

  • Changes in blood sugar control can actually be the first sign of a brewing infection, says Leslie Saxon, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California and chief medical advisor of Livestrong.com. If your blood sugar's high without an obvious explanation, consider the possibility of infection.

  • Be alert and watchful when you have an open cut or wound. If it looks like it's spreading or if you see red streaks going up an arm or leg, that is a sign that the inflammation is moving away from the wound. See your doctor right away.
  • Redness and warmth are normal at the site of a wound at first. "The body mobilizes all its forces," Bernstein says. "But after a day or so, the redness and warmth should start to subside." If a wound is still red or warm to the touch after the first 72 hours, call your doctor.

  • Fever above 99.5 degrees is a sign that you may have an infection.

  • If your gums become inflamed, see your dentist right away. You may be referred to a periodontist.

  • Examine your skin—especially your feet—every day, recommends Armand Krikorian, MD, assistant professor of endocrinology at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. If you see anything that looks out of the ordinary, it's worth a call to the doctor. "And if you see bluish discoloration or pus in the area, call the doctor right away," he advises.