Experts warn diabetes patients about the potential side effects of one type of diabetes medication, particularly a flesh-eating genital infection called Fournier gangrene.

Study Links Flesh-Eating Infection With Diabetes Meds

In 2018, the FDA warned the public about the increased risk for the infection in patients who take diabetes drugs known as SGLT2 inhibitors, which were introduced in 2013. Some of the drugs in this class are canagliflozin (Invokana), dapagliflozin (Farxiga), and empagliflozin (Jardiance).

Now, a new study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine confirms the association between the two by studying 55 cases of Fournier gangrene in people taking these drugs between March 2013 and January 2019.

The study authors compared the data to cases of Fournier gangrene in people who took another class of diabetes drugs from 1984 to 2019. From this group, only 19 cases of the infection were found.

All of the patients who were observed in the study were hospitalized and a number of them underwent surgeries. There were three deaths among the 55 people who took the SGLT2 inhibitors and developed the infection.

Low Chances Of Infection

Despite the grim findings, the researchers assured that the risk of Fournier gangrene is still extremely low even among those who take the SGLT2 inhibitor drugs.

In a report from Medical Xpress, study author Dr. Susan Bersoff-Matcha pointed out that about 1.7 million people received a prescription for an SGLT2 inhibitor in 2017.

"Fournier gangrene is a rare event," said Bersoff-Matcha, a medical officer in the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "While our study shows an association between treatment with SGLT2 inhibitors and Fournier gangrene, we don't know exactly what the risk is, or if Fournier gangrene can be predicted."

Aside from removing excess blood sugar, SGLT2 inhibitors are also found to potentially decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke in some patients with type 2 diabetes.

However, there are side effects to these medications, including genital infections, urinary tract infections, and kidney problems.

More About Fournier Gangrene

According to WebMD, the flesh-eating infection is a fast-acting condition that's often found in the external genitals and around the anus.

Some of the symptoms include fatigue, fever, and tenderness, swelling, and redness of the genital area.

Bersoff-Matcha explained that diabetes by itself increases the risk of Fournier gangrene in the same way that HIV infection and some cancer therapy drugs do.

Furthermore, experts revealed that a specific event may trigger the infection, which is why only a small minority of diabetes patients are affected. Some events include a urinary tract infection, genital piercings, a prosthetic penile implant, and a foreign object in the rectum, among others.

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