I am a 43-year-old woman and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes two years ago. I've always had pretty good skin, but in the past year I've had a problem with boils in my groin area. My job is very stressful at times, and I think this has something to do with when they surface. I've noticed they usually rear their ugly heads between ovulation and my period, and at a time when I'm stressed out and eating poorly, too. My gynecologist has prescribed me antibiotics to treat them twice already this year. Can you please
tell me what the connection is between boils and diabetes, and how best to care for them?
Belinda Childs, MN, ARNP, BC-ADM, CDE, responds: Skin abscesses, also known as boils, are more common in people with uncontrolled diabetes. They are usually caused by bacteria, typically Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus, but the abscesses can also be caused by other bacteria. For example, MRSA (methyl-resistant Staph aureus) is a dangerous bacteria that can initially look like a boil. It is important that the boils be evaluated by a health care provider and the right antibiotic prescribed. You can develop blood infections from untreated abscesses. Staph is the most common cause of infections at insulin pump needle sites.
Bacteria flourish in moist, dark, warm areas of the body, including the groin and underarm areas. You can get an abscess or boil in any location. We know that high blood glucose levels, even for short periods of time, can delay healing and increase the risk of infection. Stress, whether emotional or physical (including menstruation), can also lower your immunity and increase the likelihood that an infection will develop. Yeast and fungal infections are more common in people with uncontrolled diabetes, too.
Keeping your blood glucose level as close to normal as possible will help reduce the frequency of the abscesses. Talk to your pharmacist about a strong antibacterial soap.
Finally, even though it may be embarrassing, always talk to your health care provider about any unusual skin infections.