Sepsis and Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic (life-long) autoimmune disease that significantly impacts your life. Having this chronic disease means you must work to control your blood glucose (sugar) levels to ensure that they don’t get too high or too low.

The amount and balance of glucose in your blood are important. Your body needs glucose for energy, but too much of it can destroy body tissues, and too little can starve your body of nutrients.

People who have diabetes are also at risk of developing wounds and sores that don’t heal well. While the wounds are present, they are at high risk of developing an infection. When an infection overwhelms the body, it can cause sepsis and septic shock.

Sepsis, which was often called blood poisoning, is the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Suggested Citation:
Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis and Diabetes. 2023. https://www.sepsis.org/sepsisand/diabetes/

Updated December 15, 2023.

 

More About Diabetes

Definition

Your pancreas is a small organ (about 6” by 1.5”) that is part of your digestive system. It connects to your small intestine and sits just below your stomach towards the back. Your pancreas has a few roles, one is to help digest the food you eat and another is to secrete (send out) insulin, which stimulates your cells to use the glucose in the food and drink you consume.

When a person has diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t function properly. The pancreas either doesn’t secrete insulin at all or not effectively, depending on the type of diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 used to be called juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes. It is now called type 1. The names changed because older people can develop type 1 diabetes. As well, insulin isn’t restricted to people with this type of diabetes.

With type 1 diabetes, the pancreas cannot produce the insulin needed for the body to metabolize the glucose in the bloodstream.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 used to be called adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes. Neither of these names works because now younger people are developing type 2 diabetes, and it is not unusual for someone with type 2 diabetes to need insulin.

With type 2, the pancreas either doesn’t produce enough insulin, or the body cannot effectively use the produced insulin.

Gestational diabetes

This type of diabetes occurs during pregnancy. People with gestational diabetes are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Risk Factors

Type 1 diabetes has no known cause, although researchers agree that it is an autoimmune disease. There are many theories, a common one being that a virus may trigger the disease in people who may be susceptible to it in the first place.

People at highest risk for type 1 diabetes are those:

  • With a family history of type 1
  • Who live in countries farther away from the equator (warmer countries tend to have lower rates of type 1)
  • Who have a specific gene that seems to be related to developing the disease

While some people develop type 2 diabetes regardless of how healthy they are, many who develop it may have been able to reduce their risk by making some lifestyle changes.

People at the highest risk of developing type 2 include those who are :

  • Over 45 years old
  • Overweight or obese
  • African American, Hispanic American, or Native Americans, all groups that have high rates of diabetes
  • Not physically active

Or have:

  • Low HDL (“good”) cholesterol and/or high triglyceride levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Had gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant)
  • Impaired glucose tolerance, as advised by their doctor

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has a Diabetes Risk Test that you could take to determine your risk.

Treatment

Diabetes cannot be cured, but it can be managed. If you have type 1 diabetes, the only way to manage your blood glucose levels is by monitoring them, eating a diabetes-friendly diet, and injecting yourself regularly with insulin. Lifestyle changes are usually the first step in treating type 2, along with oral medications. These help your body use the insulin in your system. If your blood glucose levels are still too high, you may need to use insulin.

Given that the infection risk is higher than average for people with diabetes, it is essential that you watch for signs of sepsis should you become ill with a possible infection.

Gestational diabetes can often be controlled with diet and exercise, but some people do need insulin to keep their blood sugar at safe levels. The disease usually goes away after the baby is born.

 

Related Resources

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Tommy Bosko

One October day my wife and I were on our yearly vacation in the mountains of western Marylands, celebrating Autumn Glory, at a vacation rental in Deep creek lake. The rental cabin had a hot tub. I enjoyed soaking in it since it was crisp outside and the trees were really beautiful in the colors of fall, I like saying they looked as if they were painted by God’s paint brush. The trip was great and I was fine for a few weeks after returning home. Then one night I couldn’t get warm. My wife put all of our blankets ... Read Full Story

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Andres Rosario

English translation by Sepsis Alliance; original Spanish text follows. My father passed away at 61 due to organ failure caused by septic shock. My father was a diabetic and it all started with a check of his diabetes, after analysis and x-rays they found he had an enlarged prostate and would need to operate. The operation was successful, and he was sent home with a urinary catheter for 20 days. This worried me as I know that diabetics having a catheter for a prolonged time are at a higher risk of serious infection.  Once the catheter was removed, my father ... Read Full Story

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Amanda Nelson

In 2019, I got sepsis through a UTI. I am also diabetic and when I got the UTI, instead of going to the doctor, I decided to wait and see if I could fight the infection myself. (Sepsis and Urinary Tract Infections, Sepsis and Diabetes) I never thought that I could get sepsis. I did not even know what sepsis was until I got it and did not think that I could get it from something as simple as UTI. However I am diabetic and it changes the map of things of things for me. Since having sepsis I have ... Read Full Story

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Tina H.

I’m 55 years old. My sepsis started with a urinary tract infection that I didn’t even know I had. (Sepsis and Urinary Tract Infections) My first symptom was nausea and it quickly progressed to mental confusion, extreme weakness and shortness of breath. I could barely walk. My son drove me to the ER and I had to have a wheelchair because I couldn’t walk into the ER. Diagnosed with sepsis, septic shock, acute kidney failure and ketoacidosis from being diabetic. (Sepsis and Septic Shock, Sepsis and Kidney Failure, Sepsis and Diabetes) I wound up being placed in the ICU for ... Read Full Story

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Elena Landero

My mommy was a beautiful woman inside and out. She was a lover and a fighter. She loved to draw. Her art was absolutely beautiful, me and my brother reminded her ALL the time! She was also the most bravest and kindness woman you’d ever meet. If you got to meet her you’d be so blessed in her presence, because she made sure everyone was good. She was a woman of love and family. Her heart was pure for her family and friends. I lost her to sepsis which turned into septic shock on March 2nd, 2022. (Sepsis and Septic ... Read Full Story

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Other Topics

Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic (life-long) autoimmune disease that has a significant impact on your life. Having this chronic disease means you must work to control your blood glucose (sugar) levels to be sure that they don’t get too high or too low.