Diabetes and UTIs: Recognize and Prevent!

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Fifteen minutes ago you went to the lavatory and now you are back at your desk feeling distinctly uncomfortable. You need to use the toilet again and in the pit of your stomach is that sinking feeling that says, “Oh no, not another bladder infection!,” with the pain, burning and urinary urgency. Not an uncommon experience for many women. And, they are far more frequent for women with diabetes. But, ladies, this blog isn’t just for you.

Men can get urinary tract infections (UTIs) too-remember the film, The Green Mile— and diabetes makes it more likely that they will do so.

UTIs are the second most common type of bacterial infection in the U.S., driving 8.1 million health care visits a year, according to National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC). UTIs are most often caused by bacteria from the bowel that enters the urinary tract.

Usually the body has several defense mechanisms available to keep bacteria out. The ureters, which are tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder, act like one-way valves to prevent urine from backing up; passing urine washes bacteria out of the body and our immune system also provides defenses. Men have two added protections: the prostate gland produces secretions that slow bacterial growth and the urethra, the tube that connects the bladder to the penis (vagina in women), is considerably longer in men than in women.

Diabetes makes it easier to both develop an infection and sustain one. Elevated blood glucose levels provide a veritable feast for bacteria to feed on. And high glucose levels affect the disease fighting cells of the immune system. Leukocytes, a type of white blood cell responsible for engulfing and destroying bacteria, are compromised when blood glucose runs high. In addition, nerve damage, a common condition in people with diabetes in poor control, can affect the competency of the bladder muscles. This leads to the inability of the bladder to fully empty. Like stagnant water for breeding mosquitoes, stagnant urine makes an excellent medium for bacterial growth.

Controlling blood glucose levels will help you reduce the likelihood of getting a urinary tract infection. In addition, the following can also help dampen your chances of contracting a UTI.

  • Urinate when the need arises and avoid resisting the urge to urinate
  • Switch to a different method of birth control if recurring UTIs are a problem
  • Choose sanitary pads instead of tampons.
  • Do not douche or use feminine hygiene sprays, powders or perfumes in the genital area.
  • Take showers instead of baths. Avoid bath oils.
  • Keep your genital area clean. Clean your genital and anal areas before and after sexual activity.
  • Urinate before and after sexual activity.
  • Wipe from front to back after using the bathroom.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (2 to 4 quarts each day).
  • Try cranberry tablet to acidify the urine.

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