Cellulitis, CKD, and Diabetes

My uncle-in-law had it. My children’s father had it. My husband had it. Now the question is what is cellulitis? 

WebMd at https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/cellulitis#1 answers: 

“Cellulitis is a common infection of the skin and the soft tissues underneath. It happens when bacteria enter a break in the skin and spread. The result is infection, which may cause swelling, redness, pain, or warmth.” 

Alright, but what does that have to do with Chronic Kidney Disease. By the way, only one of the men mentioned in the first paragraph has CKD.  

According to the NHS (National Health Service) in the United Kingdom at https://bit.ly/2IJJrbT: 

“You’re more at risk of cellulitis if you: 

  • have poor circulation in your arms, legs, hands or feet – for example, because you’re overweight 
  • find it difficult to move around 
  • have a weakened immune system because of chemotherapy treatment or diabetes [Gail here: I bolded that.] 
  • have bedsores (pressure ulcers) 
  • have lymphoedema, which causes fluid build-up under the skin 
  • inject drugs 
  • have a wound from surgery 
  • have had cellulitis before” 

Two of the men above were overweight, but one of these did not have CKD. The overweight man who had CKD also had diabetes. One had a wound from surgery which was the cause of his cellulitis. Another had had cellulitis before. (Does this sound like one of those crazy math word questions?) 

CKD is not a cause? Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Wait just a minute here. Let’s remember that CKD gives you the lovely present of a compromised immune system. A compromised immune system means it doesn’t do such a great job of preventing illnesses and infections. 

Also remember that diabetes is the leading cause of CKD and diabetes can also weaken your immune system. I needed more information about diabetes doing that and I got it from The University of Michigan’s Michigan Medicine at https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uq1148abc:    

“High blood sugar from diabetes can affect the body’s immune system, impairing the ability of white blood cells to come to the site of an infection, stay in the infected area, and kill microorganisms. Because of the buildup of plaque in blood vessels associated with diabetes, areas of infection may receive a poor blood supply, further lowering the body’s ability to fight infections and heal wounds.” 

Remember that cellulitis is an infection. Reading the above, I became aware that I didn’t know anything about plague in the blood vessels and diabetes, so I went right to what I consider the source for vascular information, Vascular.org. This time at https://bit.ly/31dZ0yI:  

“Peripheral artery (or arterial) disease, also known as PAD, occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries and reduces blood flow to the feet and legs. Fairly common among elderly Americans, PAD is even more likely among those with diabetes, which increases plaque buildup.” 

All three of these men were elderly, if you consider in your 70s elderly. Of course, I don’t since I’m in my 70s, but we are talking science here. 

Hmmm, we don’t know yet how cellulitis is treated, do we? Let’s find out. I turned to my old buddy, The MayoClinic at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cellulitis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20370766:  

“Cellulitis treatment usually includes a prescription oral antibiotic. Within three days of starting an antibiotic, let your doctor know whether the infection is responding to treatment. You’ll need to take the antibiotic for as long as your doctor directs, usually five to 10 days but possibly as long as 14 days. 

In most cases, signs and symptoms of cellulitis disappear after a few days. You may need to be hospitalized and receive antibiotics through your veins (intravenously) if: 

Signs and symptoms don’t respond to oral antibiotics 

Signs and symptoms are extensive 

You have a high fever 

Usually, doctors prescribe a drug that’s effective against both streptococci and staphylococci. It’s important that you take the medication as directed and finish the entire course of medication, even after you feel better. 

Your doctor also might recommend elevating the affected area, which may speed recovery…. 

Try these steps to help ease any pain and swelling: 

Place a cool, damp cloth on the affected area as often as needed for your comfort. 

Ask your doctor to suggest an over-the-counter pain medication to treat pain. [Gail again: no NSAIDS, you have CKD.] 

Elevate the affected part of your body.” 

Now the obvious question is how, as CKD patients and possibly diabetics, do we avoid that infection in the first place? 

“Cellulitis cannot always be prevented, but the risk of developing cellulitis can be minimised by avoiding injury to the skin, maintain [sic] good hygiene and by managing skin conditions like tinea and eczema. 

A common cause of infection to the skin is via the fingernails. Handwashing is very important as well as keeping good care of your nails by trimming and cleaning them. Generally maintaining good hygiene such as daily showering and wearing clean clothes may help reduce the skin’s contact with bacteria. 

If you have broken skin, keep the wound clean by washing daily with soap and water or antiseptic. Cover the wound with a gauze dressing or bandaid every day and watch for signs of infection. 

People who are susceptible to cellulitis, for example people with diabetes or with poor circulation, should take care to protect themselves with appropriate footwear, gloves and long pants when gardening or bushwalking, when it’s easy to get scratched or bitten. Look after your skin by regularly checking your feet for signs of injury, moisturising the skin and trimming fingernails and toenails regularly.” 

Thank you to Australia’s HealthDirect at https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/cellulitis-prevention for these common sense reminders. Actually, we need to keep washing our hands while Covid-19 is at our door anyway, so we’ve already got that part of the prevention covered. I suspect that many of us don’t bother to deal with small wounds, but it looks like we’d better start. 

What if you do develop cellulitis? How will you be treated? My old buddy, The Mayo Clinic at https://mayocl.in/2FDxUtf tells us: 

“Cellulitis treatment usually includes a prescription oral antibiotic. Within three days of starting an antibiotic, let your doctor know whether the infection is responding to treatment. You’ll need to take the antibiotic for as long as your doctor directs, usually five to 10 days but possibly as long as 14 days. 

In most cases, signs and symptoms of cellulitis disappear after a few days. You may need to be hospitalized and receive antibiotics through your veins (intravenously) if: 

Signs and symptoms don’t respond to oral antibiotics 

Signs and symptoms are extensive 

You have a high fever 

Usually, doctors prescribe a drug that’s effective against both streptococci and staphylococci. It’s important that you take the medication as directed and finish the entire course of medication, even after you feel better. 

Your doctor also might recommend elevating the affected area, which may speed recovery.” 

Until next week, 

Keep living your life! (Safely, please) 

 

I’ve Been Compromised 

It’s true, and it’s not only me. It’s you, too, if you have Chronic Kidney Disease. ‘What do I mean?’ you ask. It’s your immune system that’s been compromised by your CKD. ‘HOW?’ you demand. That’s what today’s blog is going to explain.

Let’s start the usual way: at the beginning. So, what’s this immune system I mentioned? I turned to Medline Plus, a part of the U.S. National Library of Medicine which, in turn, is a division of the National Institutes of Health at https://medlineplus.gov/immunesystemanddisorders.html

“Your immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to defend against germs. It helps your body to recognize these ‘foreign’ invaders. Then its job is to keep them out, or if it can’t, to find and destroy them.”

According to the National Kidney Foundation at https://www.kidney.org/atoz/chronic-kidney-disease-and-pneumococcal-disease-do-you-know-facts,

“…Having kidney disease and kidney failure can weaken your immune system, making it easier for infections to take hold.  In fact, doctors and researchers have found that most infections, …, are worse in people with kidney disease.  People with a kidney transplant also have weakened immune systems.  This is because antirejection medicines (‘immunosuppressants’), which protect the body from rejecting the transplanted kidney, suppress the immune system.”

That makes sense. But exactly how does CKD compromise this system?

According to a British Society for Immunology study published in PubMed [“PubMed Central (PMC) is a free archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature at the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine (NIH/NLM),” as stated on their website. NCBI is The National Center for Biotechnology Information.] at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5904695/:

“The immune system and the kidneys are closely linked. In health the kidneys contribute to immune homeostasis, while components of the immune system mediate many acute forms of renal disease and play a central role in progression of chronic kidney disease. A dysregulated immune system can have either direct or indirect renal effects. Direct immune‐mediated kidney diseases are usually a consequence of autoantibodies directed against a constituent renal antigen, …. Indirect immune‐mediated renal disease often follows systemic autoimmunity with immune complex formation, but can also be due to uncontrolled activation of the complement pathways. Although the range of mechanisms of immune dysregulation leading to renal disease is broad, the pathways leading to injury are similar. Loss of immune homeostasis in renal disease results in perpetual immune cell recruitment and worsening damage to the kidney. Uncoordinated attempts at tissue repair, after immune‐mediated disease or non‐immune mediated injury, result in fibrosis of structures important for renal function, leading eventually to kidney failure.”

Hmmm, it seems my linking function is not working for this URL. No loss, just copy and paste the URL if you’d like to read more about the immune system and the kidneys.

There are a few medical terms in the above paragraph that you may need defined. Thank you, my all-time favorite dictionary, the Merriam-Webster, for helping us out here.

Antibodyany of a large number of proteins of high molecular weight that are produced normally by specialized B cells after stimulation by an antigen and act specifically against the antigen in an immune response, that are produced abnormally by some cancer cells, and that typically consist of four subunits including two heavy chains and two light chains

(https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/antibody)

Antigenany substance (such as an immunogen or a hapten [Gail here: Bing defines this as “a small molecule which, when combined with a larger carrier such as a protein, can elicit the production of antibodies which bind specifically to it (in the free or combined state.]) foreign to the body that evokes an immune response either alone or after forming a complex with a larger molecule (such as a protein) and that is capable of binding with a product (such as an antibody or T cell) of the immune response

(https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/antigen)

Autoantibodiesan antibody active against a tissue constituent of the individual producing it

(https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/autoantibodies)

Fibrosisa condition marked by increase of interstitial fibrous tissue [Gail here: That’s not much help. In a word, fibrosis means scarring.]

(https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fibrosis)

Renal: of, relating to, involving, or located in the region of the kidneys

(https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/renal)

Oh, boy. Now what? Can we build up our immune system? WebMD’s slide show  at https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-strengthen-immunity offers some ways we can. To summarize this slide show:

  1. Avoid stress.
  2. Have sex more often (I love this one.)
  3. Get a pet.
  4. Be optimistic.
  5. Build your social network
  6. Laugh more.
  7. Eat colorful fruits and vegetables. (Within your kidney diet, of course.)
  8. Consider herbs and supplements. (Check with your nephrologist first.)
  9. Exercise.
  10. Sleep an adequate number of hours.
  11. Cut back on alcohol consumption.
  12. Stop smoking.
  13. Keep washing those hands.

Some doctors, such as  Dr. Suzanne Cassel, an immunologist at Cedars-Sinai, think we need to balance our immune systems rather than strengthen them. ” ‘You actually don’t want your immune system to be stronger, you want it to be balanced,’ Dr. Cassel says. ‘Too much of an immune response is just as bad as too little response.’

Dr. Cassel says most of the things people take to boost their immune system, such as vitamins or supplements, don’t have any effect on your immune response.”

Obviously, all doctors don’t agree. Whether you want to balance your immune system or strengthen it, the suggestions above will be helpful. Notice whether or not we’re in the middle of a pandemic, washing your hands frequently can help your immune system. Most of the suggestions from WebMD may be surprising to you since they are lifestyle changes and/or are the same ones suggested in general for CKD patients. There’s got to be something to them if they can both help with your CKD and your immune system. Why not try the suggestions you’re not already adhering to?

By the way, to the reader who asked why chocolate is not good for CKD patients, it’s loaded with potassium. In addition, many CKD patients also have diabetes. The sugar content in chocolate is not going to do them any good.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!