A new study adds potentially fatal blood infections to the list of health risks from diabetes, a condition that is on the rise in the United States as obesity rates climb, according to the Feb. 15 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, now available online. Researchers have known for years that obesity and diabetes are linked. Most diabetics have type 2 diabetes–and most people with type 2 diabetes are obese. Diabetes can cause a host of health troubles, including kidney problems, damage to nerves and blood vessels and blindness. A heightened risk of infections in diabetic people has also been suggested. The condition known as sepsis can be brought on by bloodstream infection, and may lead to fever and septic shock, a potentially fatal drop in blood pressure.
Diabetic people are more vulnerable to bacterial blood infections called bacteremia, particularly if they develop other bacterial infections, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs). Danish researchers studied more than 1,300 patients with bacteremia caused by E. coli and related bacteria and found that about 17 percent had diabetes, compared with only 6 percent among the controls, who were matched for age and sex from the general population. Compared with non-diabetics, diabetic patients were more likely to have bacteremia caused by urinary tract infection, rather than abdominal infection. Death after bacteremia also occurred more often in diabetics than in non-diabetics.
So, with type 2 diabetes becoming increasingly common as Americans gain weight, the risk for serious infectious complications is a real one, according to Reimar Thomsen, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study. “Bacteremia … is a life-threatening infection,” he says, “and bacteremia with sepsis is the 10th most common cause of death in the United States.” Dr. Thomsen of Aalborg Hospital and Aarhus University Hospital (currently with Vanderbilt University) added that urinary tract infections seem to be a common problem in diabetics, and that the researchers “believe that urinary tract infections are the most important link between diabetes and an increased risk of bacteremias caused by E. coli and related bacteria.”
To reduce the risk of potentially fatal infection, Dr. Thomsen suggested that diabetics–particularly women, who are more prone to UTIs–try to avoid known risk factors, such as unnecessary catheterization. “Diabetic persons with signs and symptoms of urinary tract infection or bacteremia/sepsis should always seek medical care promptly, and doctors should keep a high level of suspicion for these infections if the patient has got diabetes,” Dr. Thomsen added.