Unfortunately, foot problems are often a common result of having diabetes.
As time goes by, it’s likely that diabetes can cause nerve damage, also known as diabetic neuropathy. This can lead to tingling or a painful sensation, and it may also cause you to lose feeling in your feet. The loss of feeling in your feet can become incredibly dangerous, especially if you can longer sense a blister or cut on your foot; this can lead to sores or infections.
There are many ways to maintain healthy foot care when dealing with diabetes. Most importantly, you want to ensure that you’re managing your blood glucose levels, otherwise known as your blood sugar. You also want to ensure that you’re checking your feet daily. As mentioned before, it’s important to recognize if your feet have cuts, sores, blisters, plantar warts, ingrown toenails, or other troubling foot conditions to stay ahead of the issue and prevent yourself from further harm. Along with foot checks, you should also wash and dry your feet daily using lukewarm water. It may also be useful in certain cases to moisturize your feet a few times a week, especially if you’re prone to dryness. Please be advised, however, to avoid moisturizing between the toes as they will not dry properly. Another rule you may want to follow is to ensure you’re cutting your toenails straight across. You should also refrain from digging into the sides of the toes; this will help prevent the development of an ingrown toenail. If you do happen to develop a corn or callus, never treat them yourself; seek the help of a professional. It may also be beneficial to look into socks made specifically for those with diabetes to help provide yourself with extra cushion. You may also want to refrain from walking barefoot, as well as avoid smoking, as it restricts the blood flow to your feet.
In certain serious cases, you may notice a cut, blister, or bruise is not healing after a few days. If this occurs, it’s important to seek the help of a professional. Other warning signs include redness, swelling, a callus with dried blood inside of it, or an infection that causes discoloration of the foot and an odor.
If you’d like more information on how to maintain healthy feet while living with diabetes, seek the assistance of a podiatrist who can provide you with the tips needed for healthy foot care.
Diabetes is the inability to manufacture or properly use insulin, and it impairs the body's ability to convert sugars, starches, and other foods into energy. The long-term effects of elevated blood sugar (hyperglycemia) can lead to serious damage to the eyes, heart, kidney, nerves, and feet. Diabetes affects the lives of nearly 30 million people in the United States and another 84 million people have prediabetes, according to the CDC.
While there is no cure for diabetes, there is hope. With proper diet, exercise, medical care, and careful management at home, a person with diabetes can avoid the most serious complications and enjoy a full and active life. Today's podiatrist plays a key role in helping patients manage diabetes successfully and avoid foot-related complications.
Diabetes warning signs involving the feet and ankles include the following:
Because diabetes is a disease affecting many parts of the body, successful management requires a team approach. Today's podiatrist is an integral part of the treatment team and has documented success in preventing amputations:
The keys to amputation prevention are early recognition and regular foot screenings performed by a podiatrist, the foot and ankle expert.
If you have diabetes, follow these foot care tips:
Peripheral neuropathy is damage of the peripheral nerves. Your peripheral nerves are the nerves that travel to your arms and legs. When the nerves are damaged, they don't function properly. People with peripheral neuropathy have decreased or abnormal sensation in their toes and fingers. Sometimes, they develop problems moving these parts of the body as well.
In the United States, the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes will develop neuropathy within their lifetime.
Other causes of peripheral neuropathy include:
The most common symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include burning, numbness, tingling, or shooting or stabbing pain in the toes and/or fingertips. Any change in sensation in the fingers or toes may be a symptom of peripheral neuropathy. Be sure to report any abnormal sensations to your doctor. Those sensations may be the first sign of another problem, such as diabetes.
If you have peripheral neuropathy, it is important to inspect your feet regularly. Because decreased sensation may develop eventually, you might not notice an injury or infection. Someone who has diabetes and peripheral neuropathy with loss of protective sensation, for instance, could step on a tack without noticing it. Regularly inspect your feet so you can note any injuries or infections and seek appropriate medical attention as needed.
If you're unable to properly inspect your own feet, enlist a family member or friend to help you, or use a mirror. It's absolutely essential that any injuries are caught and treated promptly. Otherwise, an infection can develop and progress.
People with peripheral neuropathy should wear properly fitted shoes and avoid walking barefoot to prevent injury. If you have diabetes, it's important to control your blood sugar as well, because out-of-control blood sugar leads to increased nerve damage. Take your insulin or medication as prescribed and follow the recommended diet.
Everyone with symptoms of peripheral neuropathy of the feet should see a podiatrist. Podiatrists are doctors who are specially trained to preserve the health of the feet.
A podiatrist, family physician, internist, or physician who specializes in diabetes can diagnose peripheral neuropathy. The diagnosis is made on the basis of a physical exam, health history, and your reporting of symptoms. The doctor may order a blood test to check your blood sugar level because high blood sugar levels and diabetes are an important cause of peripheral neuropathy.
There is no known cure for peripheral neuropathy. The goal of treatments is to slow the progression of the disease, to maintain foot health, and to decrease pain (if present) and improve the quality of life.
The podiatrist may prescribe oral medication to help with symptoms. He or she will also perform a thorough foot check to look for any injuries or infections and will teach you how to do the same. Your podiatrist will also show you how to take care of your feet at home. People who have peripheral neuropathy should have their feet examined by a podiatrist at least once per year.
A healthy diet, increased physical activity, and well-controlled blood sugars, along with regular visits to your podiatrist, may help to avoid complications of diabetes such as peripheral neuropathy.
A diabetic foot ulcer is an open sore or wound that occurs in approximately 15 percent of patients with diabetes and is commonly located on the bottom of the foot. Of those who develop a foot ulcer, 6 percent will be hospitalized due to infection or other ulcer-related complication.
Diabetes is the leading cause of non-traumatic lower extremity amputations in the United States, and approximately 14-24 percent of patients with diabetes who develop a foot ulcer will require an amputation. Foot ulceration precedes 85 percent of diabetes-related amputations. Research has shown, however, that development of a foot ulcer is preventable.
Anyone who has diabetes can develop a foot ulcer. Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, and older men are more likely to develop ulcers. People who use insulin are at higher risk of developing a foot ulcer, as are patients with diabetes-related kidney, eye, and heart disease. Being overweight and using alcohol and tobacco also play a role in the development of foot ulcers.
Ulcers form due to a combination of factors, such as lack of feeling in the foot, poor circulation, foot deformities, irritation (such as friction or pressure), and trauma, as well as duration of diabetes. Patients who have diabetes for many years can develop neuropathy, a reduced or complete lack of ability to feel pain in the feet due to nerve damage caused by elevated blood glucose levels over time. The nerve damage often can occur without pain, and one may not even be aware of the problem. Your podiatrist can test feet for neuropathy with a simple, painless tool called a monofilament.
Vascular disease can complicate a foot ulcer, reducing the body's ability to heal and increasing the risk for an infection. Elevations in blood glucose can reduce the body's ability to fight off a potential infection and also slow healing.
Because many people who develop foot ulcers have lost the ability to feel pain, pain is not a common symptom. Many times, the first thing you may notice is some drainage on your socks. Redness and swelling may also be associated with the ulceration and, if it has progressed significantly, odor may be present.
Once an ulcer is noticed, seek podiatric medical care immediately. Foot ulcers in patients with diabetes should be treated to reduce the risk of infection and amputation, improve function and quality of life, and reduce health-care costs.
The primary goal in the treatment of foot ulcers is to obtain healing as soon as possible. The faster the healing, the less chance for an infection.
There are several key factors in the appropriate treatment of a diabetic foot ulcer:
To keep an ulcer from becoming infected, it is important to:
For optimum healing, ulcers, especially those on the bottom of the foot, must be “off-loaded.” You may be asked to wear special footgear, or a brace, specialized castings, or use a wheelchair or crutches. These devices will reduce the pressure and irritation to the area with the ulcer and help to speed the healing process.
The science of wound care has advanced significantly over the past ten years. The old thought of “let the air get at it” is now known to be harmful to healing. We know that wounds and ulcers heal faster, with a lower risk of infection, if they are kept covered and moist. The use of full-strength betadine, hydrogen peroxide, whirlpools, and soaking are not recommended, as these practices could lead to further complications.
Appropriate wound management includes the use of dressings and topically-applied medications. Products range from normal saline to growth factors, ulcer dressings, and skin substitutes that have been shown to be highly effective in healing foot ulcers.
For a wound to heal, there must be adequate circulation to the ulcerated area. Your podiatrist can determine circulation levels with noninvasive tests.
Tightly controlling blood glucose is of the utmost importance during the treatment of a diabetic foot ulcer. Working closely with a medical doctor or endocrinologist to control blood glucose will enhance healing and reduce the risk of complications.
Surgical Options: A majority of non-infected foot ulcers are treated without surgery; however, if this treatment method fails, surgical management may be appropriate. Examples of surgical care to remove pressure on the affected area include shaving or excision of bone(s) and the correction of various deformities, such as hammertoes, bunions, or bony “bumps.”
Healing time depends on a variety of factors, such as wound size and location, pressure on the wound from walking or standing, swelling, circulation, blood glucose levels, wound care, and what is being applied to the wound. Healing may occur within weeks or require several months.
The best way to treat a diabetic foot ulcer is to prevent its development in the first place. Recommended guidelines include seeing a podiatrist on a regular basis. Your podiatrist can determine if you are at high risk for developing a foot ulcer and implement strategies for prevention.
You are at high risk if you have or do the following:
Reducing additional risk factors, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, high cholesterol, and elevated blood glucose, are important in prevention and treatment of a diabetic foot ulcer. Wearing the appropriate shoes and socks will go a long way in reducing risks. Your podiatrist can provide guidance in selecting the proper shoes.
Learning how to check your feet is crucial so that you can find a potential problem as early as possible. Inspect your feet every day—especially the sole and between the toes—for cuts, bruises, cracks, blisters, redness, ulcers, and any sign of abnormality. Each time you visit a health-care provider, remove your shoes and socks so your feet can be examined. Any problems that are discovered should be reported to your podiatrist as soon as possible; no matter how simple they may seem to you.
The key to successful wound healing is regular podiatric medical care to ensure the following “gold standard” of care: