It’s generally known that people with diabetes often struggle with many other associated health problems in addition to diabetes. After all, problems with blood sugar can affect almost every area of your body, so diabetic patients must pay close attention to changes in their body and report to their physician immediately. You may think that because diabetes is a disease of the pancreas, that the only things affected by the disease are blood sugar levels and cardiovascular side effects. However, diabetes can wreak havoc on parts of your body that you may not expect.
How can diabetes affect my feet?
One of the most dangerous side effects of diabetes is foot problems. Our feet can tell us a lot about the overall health of our bodies. Diabetes can lead to such foot issues as:
• Diabetic neuropathy. Over time, diabetes can cause a type of nerve damage called diabetic neuropathy, which can lead to tingling and pain in the feet, and lessen the ability to feel pain, heat and cold. This can cause a loss of feeling in the feet—meaning that you cannot feel blisters or cuts that can become infected.
• Diabetes can lower the amount of blood flow to lower extremities like thighs, lower legs and feet, making it harder for a sore or an infection to heal. Bad infections that do not heal can lead to serious conditions like gangrene. Conditions like foot ulcers and gangrene that do not resolve can lead to amputation of your foot or part of your foot.
• Diabetes can also cause changes to the skin of your foot. Skin may become extremely dry and begin to peel and crack. This can be a side effect of diabetic neuropathy, as nerves that are damaged may stop producing oil and moisture that protect the foot.
• Calluses occur more often and build up more quickly on the feet of people with diabetes. If they are not trimmed, calluses can get very thick and break, turning into open sores that can become infected.
• People with diabetes are far more likely to have a leg or foot amputated. Many people with diabetes have diabetic neuropathy, which reduces blood flow and sensation to the feet. Combined, these problems make it hard to control foot issues yourself.
What can I do to keep my feet healthy if I have diabetes?
The effects of diabetes on our feet are serious and can be deadly, and therefore these conditions must be respected and taken seriously. If you have diabetes, there are steps you can take now to prevent these diabetic foot conditions or prolong the health of your feet for as long as possible:
• Work closely with a podiatrist to come up with a foot health and a foot care plan. Get your feet examined annually to check for any changes in the health of your feet, and monitor feet closely daily.
• Examine and wash your feet every day for cuts, sores or blisters. Look for corns or calluses, warts, ingrown toenails, athlete’s foot or warm areas of your feet. Cover all blisters, cuts and sores with a bandage. Never leave an open sore open. Wash feet in lukewarm water with mild soap. Dry feet completely and put baby powder or cornstarch between toes after. Clean, dry skin helps prevent infection.
• Work to improve your blood sugar levels, strengthen your immune system and avoid smoking. Smoking affects your small blood vessels, and can cause even more poor circulation to the feet and heal wounds very slowly.
• Protect your feet from the elements by always wearing socks and shoes. Never walk barefoot as you might step on something and hurt your feet. Make sure your shoes and socks fit properly and have enough room for your feet to fit comfortably.
What treatment options are there for me?
Examining your feet daily is the most effective and least expensive way to prevent diabetic foot complications, but a good relationship with a podiatrist can go a long way in keeping your feet healthy. Meeting annually with a podiatrist can help catch small changes in foot health that may lead to bigger problems later. Do not wait until your foot condition reaches a dangerous level, as you may be at a higher risk for amputation. Many diabetic foot problems can be prevented in some measure by controlling blood sugar levels and staying active. Certain circulation medications may be available to help with poor circulation, but diabetic foot issues are often hard to control and are unfortunately very common in people with diabetes, especially the elderly population.
What can I do if I think I have a diabetic foot issue?
Meeting with a physician is the first step to treating your diabetic foot issue. A general practitioner specializing in diabetes can help you create a care plan to lower blood sugar levels and stabilize blood pressure and circulation, and a podiatrist can work specifically with you to treat issues of the foot. After all, our feet are essential to our independence, and preserving that is of utmost importance.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article, including text and images, are for informational purposes only and do not constitute a medical service. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.