If you have diabetes, foot care should be one of your top priorities. Diabetics are uniquely prone to a number of foot problems, and in extreme cases of unchecked blood sugar and lack of foot care, they can lose toes, feet or even legs.
One of the reasons foot problems can be so dangerous for those with diabetes is a condition called peripheral neuropathy—nerve damage that can make it difficult for diabetics to sense problems with their feet. In some cases, the patient cannot even feel the pain of a deep cut or sore, so a serious infection can set in before the patient has had a chance to seek treatment.
Also, where people with proper nerve function can detect and correct problems like ill-fitting shoes, blisters or foot strain, those with peripheral neuropathy may not notice the pain. And they may not be able to discern proper foot position when walking, which can further damage the feet.
Other Diabetic Risk Factors to the Feet
- Increased risk of infection: Diabetes can impair your immune system, making you more prone to infection—which is particularly dangerous to the feet.
- Ill-fitting shoes: Footwear that binds the toes or causes friction on the skin is often implicated in diabetic foot disease. Find new, professionally fitted shoes right away if you notice any soreness, redness, blistering, or corns and calluses.
- Common foot deformities: Low arches or flatfeet, hammertoes or bunions are normally mild issues, but they can present real problems for diabetics. Your podiatrist may prescribe orthotic inserts or special footwear to prevent further injury.
- Decreased circulation, oil and sweat: The skin on a diabetic’s feet is especially vulnerable to a decrease in blood flow, which is further complicated by smoking. Also, the production of oil and sweat can be impaired in diabetics, increasing the friction of skin against footwear. Either of these conditions can cause the skin to deteriorate and wounds to form.
Preventing Diabetic Foot Problems
Many of the above complications can be averted with the following precautions:
- Controlling your blood sugar and building your immune system.
- Checking your feet daily and after any injury. Note any change in the skin’s color or temperature, as well as any swelling or aching, as these could be symptoms of peripheral neuropathy or decreased circulation.
- Cleaning your feet carefully, and daily, with warm water and gentle soap. Be sure they are dry, particularly between the toes, before covering them. Apply a lotion appropriate for sensitive skin to keep the skin from becoming too dry.
- Smoking cessation, as smoking impedes circulation to the feet.
- Buying only properly fitting, comfortable footwear, and changing into clean, dry socks daily.
- Avoiding going barefoot, which puts you at risk of injury.
- Preventing and treating ingrown toenails, bunions and corns. Never try cutting or shaving calluses yourself, as this could cause infection; your podiatrist can safely remove them for you.
- Visiting your podiatrist regularly for a more complete evaluation. Your doctor can identify the early signs of pressure, skin irritation or poor circulation in the feet.
- Foot problems are a serious concern for people with diabetes. But if you are cautious, seek treatment early, and follow your podiatrist’s recommendations, you can often prevent complications and keep your feet healthy.