If you have recently been diagnosed with diabetes, it may seem strange to have to pay special attention to the feet. But, it is important to know that diabetics experience nerve damage and blood flow problems more frequently than the non-diabetics. So, even if you do not have foot problems now, they could develop secretly if you do not inspect your feet regularly.
Nerve damage - neuropathy (nu-Rop-a-thee) affects many diabetics at some point or another over the course of their lives. Among the leading causes of nerve damage are high blood sugar levels and poor blood circulation. When you have nerve damage in your feet, you will lose sensation and may have difficulty using your muscles. When your muscles become weakened or misaligned, you will likely put too much pressure on one part of the foot, which can cause blisters and sores to develop.
When you have nerve damage, you may not even detect everyday wear and on your feet, such as cuts and blisters. If you are not aware of foot injuries, then the injuries will go untreated and even small injuries can lead to a big-time infection. An estimated 10% of diabetics develop potentially dangerous foot ulcers as a result of nerve damage that masked smaller injuries.
Poor blood flow - peripheral (puh-rif-er-uhl) vascular disease, makes it hard for cuts and infections to heal simply because oxygen-rich blood cannot reach the area of infection efficiently. If an infection goes for a prolonged amount of time without treatment or proper blood flow to the area, you may develop gangrene (GANG-green) - a condition in which the skin and tissue of the infected area dies and becomes black and smelly. Amputation is the most common treatment for gangrene.Common Foot Problems Among Diabetics:
Athlete's Foot - is characterized by itchy feet and cracking skin. The condition exposes the foot to infection, but is treatable with medicines and creams.
Blisters - Blisters are one of the most common foot ailments that affect diabetics. The condition usually occurs when shoes rub against moist skin, creating enough friction to weaken the bond between layers of skin. If you develop a blister, it is important to avoid popping it. Instead, treat the blister using bandages and anti-bacterial cream.
Bunions -A bunion occurs when toes become misaligned. Most commonly, the big toe will be pushed towards the second toe, causing an outward bulge at the joint of the big toe that can become sore and prone to calluses. In most cases, bunions are caused by wearing uncomfortable shoes, such as heels or shoes that are too narrow. Bunions may also be genetic. You can treat bunions using toe separators between the second toe and big toe. In some cases, surgery is required to realign the toes and relieve pain.
Calluses - A Callus is a build-up of skin that becomes hardened. Calluses are common foot conditions for diabetics and, are caused when weight is placed unevenly on a certain area of the foot. Calluses are generally caused by shoes that do not fit properly. To treat your calluses, regularly scrub your feet with a pumice stone and use orthopedic pads in your shoes for increased comfort. In extreme cases, your doctor may prescribe medicine.
Corns - A corn is a small growth that is similar to a callus in that corns are characterized by a build-up of hard skin. However, a corn generally develops around the bony area of the toes. Treatment for corns is similar to treatment for calluses and can also involve special medication.
Dry Skin - Dry skin occurs when there is not enough moisture in the skin. Dry skin, while common, can also be dangerous when it cracks and leads to infection. To avoid dry skin, always wash your feet in warm water and use lotions as often as possible. And, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
Foot Ulcers - Foot ulcers are similar conditions to blisters, in that they are begin with a weakening of the skin caused by friction and moisture. However, a foot ulcer is characterized by a complete break in the outer layer of skin. When the skin breaks, the area can quickly develop an infection and should be treated carefully. See your doctor for recommended wound care treatments, such as creams, padding and medications.
Fungal Infections - Infected nails take on a yellow-brownish or opaque color and are normally brittle and thick. The nail might also separate from the nail bed or completely crumble. If you have a fungal infection, have your doctor prescribe anti-fungal medication. You may also have to remove tissue around the infected area.
Ingrown Toenails - Ingrown toenails are common among all types of people, not just Diabetics. In general, they are caused when tight-fitting shoes push toenails into the skin around the edges of the toenail bed, cutting the skin. When the skin is pierced, the condition can lead to infection, swelling and extreme discomfort. The best way to avoid ingrown toenails is to properly trim your toenails regularly. In some cases, you may need surgery to extract part of the toenail that causes irritation.
Plantar Warts - Plantar warts are small growths of skin that generally develop in clusters. They are similar to the look and texture of calluses, except for the presence of a black spot in the center and the appearance of small pinholes (similar to the look of a dandelion head.) Plantar warts are the result of an infection that is caused by a virus in the skin. Doctors normally treat plantar warts with over-the-counter or prescribed medications.
When to Visit Your Doctor
- Here are some helpful tips to help you care for your feet:
- Wash your feet with warm, soapy water every day.
- Keep your feet dry, but moisturized.
- Do not moisturize between your toes.
- Avoid soaking your feet, as soaking can weaken the skin.
- Use a pumice stone to soften your calluses and corns regularly.
- Trim your toenails.
- Avoid wearing sandals or going barefoot, as exposed skin is susceptible to cuts and infection.
- Wear socks and or stockings with your shoes.
- When necessary, use padding on bunions, blisters, calluses and other injuries.
- Wear shoes that fit comfortably.
- Keep your feet warm by wearing socks or slippers.
- Elevate your feet as much as possible to increase blood-flow.
- Keep your feet active by rotating your ankles and wiggling your toes.
- Avoid sitting cross-legged for a prolonged period of time, as sitting cross-legged can cut off blood flow to your feet.
- Before putting on shoes, make sure that the shoes do not have sharp edges or items in them that could cut into your feet. If you have nerve damage, you may not be able to feel these sharp items when your shoes are on.
- Examine your feet daily for cuts and blisters.
- Visit your doctor regularly.
A podiatrist is a doctor that specializes in foot care. It is recommended that diabetics visit a podiatrist or their primary care physician every 2-3 months for a complete foot check-up, even if they do not have regular foot problems.
Be sure to contact your doctor if you experience any of the following problems:
- Uneven skin color or changes in skin color
- Unusually hot or cold skin
- Slow-healing wounds
- Sores that are draining fluid
- Infected toenails
- Unusual foot odor, especially if the skin is cracked
Talk to your doctor for more information about how you can take care of your feet. Remember: taking good care of your feet will help to prevent long-term problems like amputation.
Check Under Your Feet While Weighing Yourself