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Diabetes and bladder symptoms

Diabetes mellitus, often simply referred to as diabetes - is a group of metabolic diseases in which a person has a high blood sugar, either because the body does not produce enough insulin or because cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced.

Diabetes may increase the risk of complications in different parts of the body. One common complication is neuropathy, and it usually begins in the longest nerves and therefore affects feet first. Neuropathy means that nerves have become damaged, resulting in loss of sensation.

Diabetes neuropathy may end up effecting your bladder function. This can go unnoticed for a long time and therefore treatment commonly is offered late.
diabetes full width Woman using blood sugar measuring device on her finger

The effect of neuropathy on the bladder consist of a triad of changes. First of all a reduction of sensitivity in the bladder. This basically means that you will not sense bladder filling in the same way, resulting in infrequent visits to the toilet with the aim to void.

Secondly, as a consequence to this, bladder volumes will increase – since you will not sense/notice that you need to void. Perhaps you will just go to the toilet once or twice per day?

Thirdly you will have an impaired bladder contractility – making it impossible to empty your bladder completely. This results in retention, urinary tract infections, incontinence (sometimes signs of overactivity) and in the long run, an increased risk of kidney failure.

So these changes leads to a magnified, a-contractile, hypotonic bladder that initially does not need to give so many symptoms. But when the sphincter also becomes affected, it can lead to urinary retention, incontinence and repeated urinary tract infections. Some people also have bladder pareses with painful chronic urinary retention.

You can also find additional information in our enCATHopedia Leaflet.

What to look for if you have diabetes

Since the symptoms may be insidious you may not notice much at all. A quick self-check may offer some clues:

  • How often do you go to the toilet with the purpose to void your bladder? Less than 4 times? 
  • Do you feel that you need to strain to empty your bladder? 
  • Do you feel like your bladder is not emptied? 
  • Have you had several urinary tract infections the last year? 

If yes, to any of these questions – a check up may be of value. The same goes if you have other bothersome symptoms from your urinary tract.

The International Diabetes Federation is an umbrella organisation for 230 national diabetes organisations across 170 countries. Their mission is to educate, raise awareness, guide and support those impacted by the disease.