Are women with diabetes at a higher risk for UTIs?

Ask our CDE

Are women with diabetes at a higher risk for UTIs?


Dear CDE,

Are women with diabetes at a higher risk for having a UTI?  I have had a few UTIs since my diagnosis.  What are the risk factors and what can I do to prevent a future UTI?



Dear Reader,

What is a UTI? These letters stand for “urinary tract infection”. This infection is the 2nd most common infection in the body. Women are especially susceptible to UTI’s. One woman in five develops a UTI in her lifetime. The urinary system consists of the kidneys, the urethra, ureters, and the bladder.  The kidneys remove excess waste, and liquid from the blood in the form of urine. Narrow tubes called ureters carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder, which is in the lower abdomen.  Urine is stored in the bladder and emptied through the urethra.

Normally, urine is sterile, free of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It contains fluid, salts and waste products.  An infection occurs when tiny organisms, usually bacteria from the digestive tract cling to the opening of the urethra and begin to multiply. A person may have a urethral infection, a bladder infection, and a kidney infection if the bacteria travel through the urinary system. The urinary system is structured in a way to that helps ward off infection and in both men and women, immune defenses help prevent infection. Despite these bodily safeguards, however, they still do occur.

Some people are more prone to develop UTI’s than others. Those, for example, that have any abnormality of the urinary tract that prevents the flow of urine such as a kidney stone may be at a higher risk. Another common source of infection is catheters and any tube placed in the urethra or bladder.  Some researchers say that people with diabetes are at higher risk for UTI’s because of changes in the immune system.

Symptoms of a UTI typically consist of the following: an increased need to urinate and a burning sensation in the bladder and/or urethra upon urination. UTI’s are diagnosed with a urine test and are treated with antibiotics. There are several different antibiotics that may be used depending upon the severity of the infection.

What can you do to avoid UTI’s?

1) Drink plenty of water and other fluids.
2) Do not wait to go the bathroom when you feel the urge.
3) Wipe from front to back.
4) Urinate soon after sex.
5) Empty bladder completely when you urinate.
6) Do not use strong soaps, feminine hygiene sprays, or douches.
7) Wear all cotton or cotton crotch underwear.
Are women with diabetes really at higher risk for these infections? First, I spoke with several endocrinologists who all said the same thing, “No.” There is however controversy in the literature. One author believes that women with diabetes are 2 times more likely to get a UTI than women without diabetes.  Another researcher from the UK also reports that UTI’s are more common in people with diabetes.  None of the articles I reviewed could really say why though. So what do we do as women with diabetes who want to avoid UTI’s? First follow the above guidelines and above all else get your blood sugars under good control. If you do get an infection, typically blood sugars rise and that makes it more difficult to fight the infection. If your blood sugars are high, you are at higher risk for any infection. So if we keep sugars under control, we are no different from any other female out there!