Diabetes and foot problems
Diabetes and foot problems go hand and hand. That is because high blood sugar levels from diabetes cause damage to the arteries—damaged arteries decrease blood flow—which delays, or in worse cases prevents healing. And since the feet and hands are farthest away from the heart, oxygen and essential nutrients get to them very late. Hence, proper diabetic foot care, including inspection for cuts, blisters, and ulcers should be part of your daily personal-care routine.
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 remember that diabetics may experience nerve damage and blood flow problems more often than non-diabetics. So, even if you do not have foot problems now, they could develop secretly if you do not inspect your feet regularly.
Two main foot problems from diabetes complications
Diabetic neuropathy or nerve damage 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.
is characterized by itchy feet and cracking skin. The
condition exposes the foot to infection, but is treatable with
medicines and creams.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
- 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.