Diabetes patients have an increased risk of suffering serious infections or death compared to the general public, new research has shown.

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calendar-icon 25 January 2018

The study analysed the electronic GP and hospital records of more than 100,000 English adults aged 40 to 89 years with a diabetes diagnosis, and compared them to those without a diabetes diagnosis.

The researchers estimated that 6% of infection-related hospital admissions, such as for pneumonia, and 12% of infection-related deaths among adults could be attributed to diabetes.

Julia Critchley, Professor of Epidemiology in the Population Health Research Institute at St George’s, University of London, said:  “About one in eight infection-related deaths in the entire UK population may be due to diabetes.

“Diabetes brings a whole host of vulnerabilities and well known complications such as eye damage, kidney disease, nerve and foot problems, and heart disease for a patient, but the infection risks are less often discussed although they are also substantial and affect quality of life as well as causing serious life threatening illnesses.

“Through diet, exercise, and medical management, diabetes in some patients can be tackled or controlled better, reducing these problems”.

Dr Iain Carey, of the Population Health Research Institute, at St George’s, University of London, said: “We have confirmed that people with diabetes are more prone to all infections, particularly serious infections like bone and joint infections, endocarditis and sepsis.>

“We have also shown that infections among people with diabetes cause substantial ill-health and need for NHS treatment.

“Despite this, current NHS guidance for Type 2 diabetes does not specifically mention infections or recommend ways to reduce this problem.

“Better management of diabetes patients, through improvements in control of their blood sugar levels for example, or more rapid recognition of infections by patients and carers, may help prevent future infections”.

The large size of the study enabled the researchers to show that diabetes patients with the less common Type 1 diagnosis were at even greater risk of being hospitalised and dying from infection.

Over a seven year period, patients with Type 2 diabetes were twice as likely to be hospitalised with an infection as patients without diabetes; for Type 1 diabetes this difference was nearly four times.

The study also investigated more common infections seen by GPs, and found that skin infections such as cellulitis were twice as common in patients with diabetes.  

The study was published in Diabetes Care.