How Diabetes Puts Your Feet at Risk
Diabetes causes systemic damage throughout the body, but your feet are often one of the first places to start developing serious symptoms.
Why is that? Two of the biggest reasons involve how the elevated blood sugar associated with diabetes damages both the circulatory and peripheral nervous systems. Either problem is bad enough on its own, but they are extremely dangerous in combination:
- Damage to the peripheral nerves (neuropathy) can reduce sensation in the toes and feet, or eventually make them completely numb. You might not notice a cut or other injury right away.
- Damage to the circulatory system means your body is less able to heal itself and close wounds, and less capable of fighting off any germs that might get into the wound and infect it.
This is why, if you have diabetes, something as seemingly minor as a popped blister or mild ingrown toenail is a lot more likely to develop into a severe, dangerous ulcer. Not only are injuries more dangerous on their own, but you’re also less likely to even notice them and seek treatment in a timely manner.
The feet (and especially toes) are vulnerable, not only because of the amount of abuse they take on a day-to-day basis, but because nerves and blood vessels tend to be smaller and more delicate in the extremities—and thus are often the first to “short out” due to systemic damage.
Common diabetic foot complications include:
- Severe neuropathy and circulatory problems.
- Wounds/ulcers that won’t heal and may become infected.
- Foot deformities (including Charcot foot) that may develop because people with severe neuropathy may walk on (and continue to damage) broken or dislocated bones.
- Amputation of toes, feet, or even part of the leg if infections can no longer be controlled.
Protecting Your Foot Health at Home
No matter how often we see you for a comprehensive checkup at Heartland Foot & Ankle, the way you care for your feet at home between your appointments is equally important to your long-term health—if not more so!
The at-home component of your comprehensive foot care plan should always include a daily self-exam. Because you can’t always trust your nerves, you need to check your own feet manually every day. Inspect all areas: top, bottom, sides, nails and even between toes. Make sure you check for:
- Blisters, corns, calluses, warts, and other growths. Any abnormality that you note on your feet has the potential for leading to a dangerous infection.
- Cuts, scratches, and scrapes. When you discover these, wash the affected area carefully and apply an antibiotic cream recommended by our office. If there is redness, oozing, or foul-smelling discharge, call us as soon as possible.
- Ingrown or discolored toenails. Ingrown toenails dig into the soft skin flanking them and increase the risk of infection. Do not try to ride these out or treat at home—call us right away.
- Skin issues. Keep your feet from becoming too dry, which can ultimately lead to fissures and cracking. Itching and redness are possible signs of infection and need to be treated right away. Blue or black coloration are indications of circulation issues and you must seek emergency care immediately.
When in doubt, call us. The risk of developing a dangerous infection is far too great to take chances on your foot health.
Other ways you can help keep your feet healthy include:
- Carefully monitoring and managing your blood sugar levels. The better you control your condition, the better off your feet will be.
- Avoiding barefoot walking (even indoors). Protecting your feet is extremely important if you have diabetes. We provide a wide variety of diabetic shoes, and even sandals and slippers, that are comfortable, protective, and stylish.
- Maintaining good hygiene. Wash feet every day with warm water and mild soap, then dry thoroughly and moisturize.
- Kicking your nicotine habit (or never starting one). Smoking constricts blood vessels, which only compounds the effects of diabetes and increases your risk of complications all the more.
Treat Your Feet Right, and They’ll Treat You Right
We’ve already said it, but we’ll say it again: the best time to get started with a diabetic foot care plan is always right now.
Whether you have a current foot or ankle issue you’re dealing with, or it’s simply been too long since you had a comprehensive diabetic foot exam, give us a call today at (309) 661-9975. You need your feet to carry you for a lifetime, and we’re here to help you make sure that they do!