Diabetes and Urinary Tract Infections: What You Need to Know

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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The urgent need to go. The burning pain when you do. The cloudy, foul-smelling urine. If you've experienced a urinary tract or bladder infection, you'd probably prefer to avoid another one.

Unfortunately, if you have diabetes, you are up to twice as likely as those without the disease to develop these often painful infections. They’re especially common among women. But there’s a lot you can do to avoid them and to ease your discomfort when they do strike.

Why Diabetes Poses a Risk

Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, occur when bacteria or other bugs invade your body’s drainage system. Normally, your immune defenses banish these bugs before they can grow and multiply. But if you have diabetes, the following factors interfere:

  • Diabetes impairs some parts of your immune response. You have fewer white blood cells and T cells to fight off invading bacteria, viruses, and fungi. For the same reason, diabetics often develop UTIs caused by less commonly encountered germs. Routine antibiotics may be ineffective.

  • Nerve damage can keep your bladder from emptying, either by weakening muscles or scrambling the signals between your brain and urinary system. Urine that remains in your body too long poses a greater infection risk.

  • Sugar in your blood and urine can also contribute to a greater risk for UTI.

Besides pain and urgency related to urination, UTIs can cause back or side pain, pressure above your pubic bone or in your rectum, weakness, fatigue, nausea, and fever. These symptoms often mean the infection has spread upstream to your kidneys. Hospitalization may be necessary to aggressively manage this serious problem.

Calm the Burn

See your health care provider if you develop the symptoms listed above or other urinary problems. Prompt treatment can both relieve your symptoms and help prevent your infection from spreading. In rare cases, untreated UTIs can cause serious problems, such as kidney damage or even kidney failure.

To diagnose a UTI, your health care provider will take a sample of your urine and test it for bacteria and pus. Typically, you’ll be treated with an antibiotic. Most people with UTIs feel better within a couple days after starting treatment. However, you’ll need to continue taking medicine until your health care provider tells you it’s OK to stop. If the infection has spread to your kidneys, treatment may take several weeks.

Ask your health care provider about options to ease your symptoms. You may be able to speed your recovery by:

  • Drinking lots of fluids

  • Placing a heating pad on your back or abdomen

  • Taking additional pain-relieving medications

Take Preventive Steps

Once you have your first UTI, diabetes increases your risk for additional infections. To ward off future cases, drink plenty of fluids and try to urinate immediately when you feel the need. Urinate after sexual intercourse to help flush out bacteria, and wipe front-to-back after urination or bowel movements.

If you have frequent UTIs, your health care provider may recommend additional measures, including:

  • Taking a low-dose antibiotic for six months or longer. Swallowing pills at bedtime seems to work best, because the medicine stays in the bladder longer.

  • Taking a single small dose of antibiotics after sex.

Keeping your blood glucose under control can also help you prevent UTIs—and help you recover more quickly if you do develop them. Work with your health care provider on a treatment plan that fits with your lifestyle and keeps your condition in check.

Key Takeaways

  • If you have diabetes, you are twice as likely to contract a urinary tract infection (UTI). The condition is also more common in women than men.

  • UTIs can cause pain, weakness, fatigue, nausea, and fever. If left untreated, a UTI can damage your kidneys.

  • Your health care provider will test your urine for bacteria and pus. If you have a UTI, you will usually be treated with an antibiotic.

  • To prevent UTIs, drink lots of fluids, urinate when you feel the urge and after having sex, and wipe front-to-back after urination or bowel movements. If you have frequent UTIs, your health care provider might suggest other means for prevention.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2022 Aug 17
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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