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.

Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis 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.

Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who do survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue,  organ dysfunction (organs don’t work properly), and/or amputations.

What is diabetes?

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 insulin either doesn’t secrete insulin at all or not effectively, depending on the type of diabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 11.3% of the American population has the disease. That is 37.3 million children and adults. There are 28.7 million people diagnosed with diabetes and 8.5 million who have it but are not diagnosed. In addition, 96 million adults are close to developing diabetes; they fall into the “pre-diabetes” category. Compare this with 2017, when 9.4% of people in the U.S. had diabetes, 30.3 million children and adults; 23.1 million people diagnosed, and 7.2  not yet diagnosed. Over 84 million people had pre-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 many people 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.

How do you get diabetes?

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.

Although you can’t generally cause type 1 diabetes, certain diseases may destroy the pancreas’s ability to work properly, or some medications may trigger the disease. It might be reversible if caused by a medication.

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.

If you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital and tell your medical professional, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.” 

what is sepsis

The information here is also available as a Sepsis Information Guide, a downloadable format for easier printing.

You can learn more about infection prevention among people who are immunocompromised by clicking here.

Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.

Suggested Citation: Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis and Diabetes. 2022. https://www.sepsis.org/sepsisand/diabetes/

Updated February 10, 2022.

Read Personal Stories of Sepsis and Diabetes

David Trinks

Survivor

On 10/3/2020 I went to bed at midnight. I woke up at 3am to go to the bathroom, I noticed there was blood coming out from between the toes of my right foot. I went to touch it to investigate, and all the skin sloughed off, I immediately drove to the nearest Emergency Room, I did not have any pain, redness, swelling, nor was it warm to the touch but being a diabetic it was of extreme concern. (Sepsis and Diabetes) While sitting waiting for 2 hours to be seen, my right great toe began to turn blackish. After the ... Read Full Story

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Shawn Carver

Survivor, Tribute

Shawn was a coherent man who had been holding down a full-time job. He walked into the hospital ER under his own steam for a diabetic sore on his foot. (Sepsis and Diabetes) He would be in the hospital 2 weeks where he would have foot surgery and his health started declining. Instead of keeping him in the hospital though, because he was uninsured, he was put into a crappy run rehab center where he was not given adequate care. He started to have severe tremors, so much so that he couldn’t even hold his phone to talk. He was ... Read Full Story

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Ian S. Conway

Survivor, Tribute, Tribute

Our daddy died on the 30 June 2017 we took him in to hospital on the Thursday by the Friday he had gone we found out a few days later he died of sepsis. He was the best dad ever. It started on the Monday when the doctors failed him. They said it was his cellulitis and gave him antibiotics without coming out. (Sepsis and Cellulitis) He became very ill through the week and on the Wednesday he had hypoglycemia due to type 2 diabetes. We had gotten him stable.  (Sepsis and Diabetes) The next day frantically rang the doctors  ... Read Full Story

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Claire Jenkins Robinson

Survivor, Tribute, Tribute, Survivor

I started feeling unwell at the beginning of June this year with diarrhoea and vomiting and a chest infection, but as I’m type 1 diabetic didn’t think too much of it as infection tends to make my blood sugar unstable. (Sepsis and Diabetes) I did however go to my local hospital where I had a few bags of IV saline to rehydrate me. The junior doctor commented that my inflammation levels were raised but I was discharged with no treatment and my GP wasn’t alerted. As the chest infection developed into a hacking sputum producing cough, my GP prescribed penicillin ... Read Full Story

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Amanda Nelson

Survivor, Tribute, Tribute, Survivor, Survivor

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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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.