Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) in Diabetics

It may or may not cause symptoms, it can start out subtly and if not treated, it can progress to a more serious infection. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are much more frequent in women than in men, and they're even more frequent in women with diabetes. A diabetic's immune system isn't as good at fighting off infections as the immune system of a non-diabetic, thus a higher risk of UTI, explains Luigi Meneghini, MD, MBA, an endocrinologist at the Diabetes Research Institute in Miami.

And poor blood sugar control can make the situation even worse, he says. "The higher the blood sugars, the greater the difficulty in fighting off infection," he says.

Women in menopause are more likely to come down with a UTI, says Blanca Sckell, MD, of Saint Vincent's Hospital in New York City.

"So if you are past menopause and you are a woman with diabetes, you have a good chance of getting a UTI," she says.

Diabetics who develop neuropathy also struggle with UTIs, according to the American Diabetes Association. A common symptom of neuropathy is paralysis of the bladder, and when this happens, the bladder nerves don't respond normally to pressure as the bladder fills up with urine. Thus urine remains in the bladder, which can lead to UTIs.

Detecting a UTI isn't difficult, Meneghini says, and it involves examining the urine for the presence of bacteria. If a UTI is diagnosed, you'll be put on a course of antibiotics. Sometimes, says Sckell, if a diabetic is coming down with frequent back to back UTIs, the doctor may prescribe a mild dose of antibiotics for an extended period of time to prevent future infections.   

Symptoms of a UTI

Look for a change in blood glucose control, says Meneghini, with spikes in the blood sugar. Also, if you experience a different odor to the urine, that also may be a sign..

Discomfort in the area that can range from very little to a lot. Also be aware that back pain and flank pain may indicate that a UTI has progressed from the bladder to the kidneys, Meneghini says. This is a much more serious infection.

How to Prevent a UTIs

Proper hygiene. It sounds like a no brainer, but improper wiping techniques can actually ratchet up your chances of contracting a UTI. "If you wipe after urinating from the rectum to the front, you can contaminate the vaginal area," he says. "It is important to wipe from front to back."

Consider drinking cranberry juice, says Dr. Sckell. "We don't have a really good study yet, which would be a placebo controlled trial," she says. "But empirically, a lot of doctors believe that cranberry juice does help a UTI. It can't hurt." Obviously sugary cranberry juice is not a good idea if you're diabetic, she says, but you can find low-calorie cranberry juice with almost no carbohydrates, or also take it in pill form.