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If you have been diagnosed with any type of diabetes, then you know what a difficult condition it is to deal with on its own – let alone any other health problems that might arise from it.
Unfortunately, patients who suffer from diabetes may find they are more susceptible to foot injuries than other people.
Let’s take a look at what kinds of foot injuries you may get, how to properly care for your feet to prevent these injuries, and when you should see a doctor about these conditions.
- 1 What Is Diabetes?
- 2 Conditions to Look Out for When You Have Diabetes
- 3 Diabetes Foot Care Tips
- 4 When to See a Doctor About Your Feet
- 5 Conclusion
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a common disease that occurs when your blood glucose, or blood sugar, becomes too high. This glucose is derived from the foods you eat and it acts as your main source of energy.
Insulin, which is a crucial hormone made by your pancreas, helps the glucose you obtain from your food be absorbed into your cells so that it can be turned into energy for you to use throughout the day.
Some people who suffer from diabetes do not make enough (or even any) insulin or their bodies do not use the insulin it does create very well. This unused glucose then stays in your blood and remains unabsorbed by your cells.
Having too much blood glucose can cause a myriad of health problems, including diabetic feet.
As of 2015, 30.3 million people in the United States alone suffer from diabetes, and more than one in four of those people did not even know they had the disease at all.
Diabetes affects about one in four people over the age of 65, and about 90 to 95 percent of adults of any age may suffer from Type 2 Diabetes.
There are several different types of diabetes, but there are three common strains — Type 1, Type 2, and Gestational Diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes
If you suffer from Type 1 Diabetes, this means that your body does not produce insulin at all. This is because your immune system attacks and destroys the unfortunate cells in your pancreas that create insulin.
Anyone can develop Type 1 Diabetes, though it is typically diagnosed in children and young adults. People with this type must take insulin every day just to stay alive.
Type 2 Diabetes
This is the most common type of diabetes. If you suffer from Type 2 Diabetes, then your body does not make or use its insulin very well.
You can develop this type of diabetes at any age, even in childhood, but it occurs most often in middle-aged and older people.
Gestational diabetes can develop in some women while they are pregnant. This type of diabetes tends to go away after the baby is born, in most cases.
Unfortunately, if you have had Gestational Diabetes in the past, you actually have a greater chance of developing Type 2 Diabetes later in life.
Sometimes, Gestational Diabetes is misdiagnosed during pregnancy, and the mother may actually have Type 2 Diabetes instead.
Other Types of Diabetes
Less common types of diabetes include Monogenic Diabetes, which is basically inherited diabetes, and Cystic Fibrosis-related Diabetes.
Conditions to Look Out for When You Have Diabetes
People who suffer from any type of diabetes may exhibit the following symptoms to varying degrees:
- Frequent urination.
- Excessive thirst (due to frequent urination, among other things).
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Extreme hunger.
- Sudden vision changes.
- Tingling or numbness in your hands or feet.
- Feeling exhausted most of the time.
- Very dry skin.
- Sores that heal slowly.
- More susceptible to contracting infections.
If you have abrupt onset Type 1 Diabetes, you may also experience frequent bouts of nausea, vomiting, or stomach pains on top of the symptoms listed above.
You will also be more susceptible to many foot-related complications as a result of your diabetes. This is because diabetes causes nerve damage and may even reduce blood flow to your feet.
This can make it far more difficult for your feet to heal even the simplest of injuries or resist infections, putting you more at risk for nonhealing injuries or infections that could result in the amputation of a toe, the afflicted foot, or even the entire leg itself.
This video goes into more detail about diabetic feet.
Other Diabetic Foot Injuries
Blisters, Sores, and Ulcers
People with diabetes might get small blisters or sores from time to time and not even feel them. This can then lead to all sorts of other, more serious injuries down the line.
Foot ulcers tend to develop from these smaller wounds and will affect as many as one out of ten people with diabetes at some time during their life.
Even the smallest of ulcers may heal extremely slowly in diabetes patients and will need rigorous treatment.
If left untreated, these ulcers will then develop into serious lower body infections like gangrene, which may result in eventual amputation.
You may also develop Charcot’s Foot, which is when the bones in your foot become weakened due to the significant nerve damage that diabetes can cause.
This weakened state can cause your bones to fracture or the joints in your foot to collapse. As a result, the affected foot may become severely deformed and hard to walk on.
You may even need to amputate it if it progresses any further than that.
Diabetic Neuropathy is when the nerves in your foot become damaged, which can make your feet feel numb and less aware of when they are injured. This is caused by unchecked levels of high blood glucose over time.
Diabetic neuropathy makes it difficult for a person with diabetes to feel any sort of irritation, soreness, or infection in their feet. While lack of pain might sound like a benefit, it is actually very dangerous.
Pain alerts you to the fact that something is wrong with your body, and if you do not feel pain, then you will not notice when you get cuts, sores, or blisters that you should attend to before they get infected. As such, you go about your day thinking you’re fine when you’re not.
If you do not receive treatment for the infection these injuries cause, foot ulcers and even gangrene can develop.
If your injuries get to the point where you develop something as serious as gangrene, you may even have to amputate your entire foot to prevent it from spreading to a lethal degree.
Peripheral Vascular Disease
Due to a large amount of glucose building up in your blood, fatty deposits may start to build up in your arteries and prevent blood from flowing beyond the brain and heart.
Your body will then reduce the blood flow to and from the extremities, such as your hands and feet, which, again, will lead to reduced pain, slow-to-heal wounds, and infections that could result in amputations if left undetected.
Both Diabetic Neuropathy and Peripheral Vascular Disease tend to have the same complications and ongoing health detriments, which need to be closely monitored by a doctor. These can include:
- Different kinds of infections, including skin infections, bone infections, and abscesses.
- Gangrene, which is the result of an infection causing the tissue around it to die.
While infections can be easily reversed if caught in time, gangrene can lead to permanent physical changes and even amputation of the afflicted areas.
Diabetes Foot Care Tips
If you suffer from diabetes, follow these foot care tips to ensure you do not contract any of the conditions listed above:
- Be sure to inspect your feet every day. You should check for cuts, blisters, redness, swelling, or any nail problems. If you have trouble seeing the bottom of your feet, use a magnifying hand mirror to help.
- Always gently bathe your feet in lukewarm water every day. Never use hot water to clean your feet. You should wash them with a soft washcloth or sponge and dry them by blotting or patting them with a towel. Make sure you carefully dry the spaces between your toes, too.
- Use a daily moisturizer to keep your skin from becoming dry. Dry skin can cause your feet to itch or crack, which, in turn, makes them susceptible to infections. Do not moisturize between your toes, as this encourages fungal infection.
- Be sure cut your nails straight across and file the edges. Never cut your toenails too short! This could lead to ingrown toenails.
- Always wear clean, dry socks and change them every day. You might want to wear socks made specifically for diabetic patients if you are really worried about developing complications. These socks have extra cushioning, do not have elastic tops, reach higher than the ankle, and are made from fibers that take extra moisture away from the skin.
- Be sure to shake out your shoes and feel the insides before wearing them. Diabetic Neuropathy may prevent your feet from feeling a pebble or other foreign object hidden inside your shoes, which could cause an injury.
- Always keep your feet warm and dry. Do not let your feet get wet (outside of bathing them) if you can help it.
- If you find that your feet tend to sweat often, consider using antiperspirant on your feet.
- Never walk barefoot! You must always wear shoes or slippers, even when indoors. This is to prevent your feet from getting scratched or cut.
- Keep your blood sugar levels under control, so your diabetes does not exacerbate your diabetic foot symptoms.
- Do not smoke, as smoking restricts the blood flow in your feet.
- Never treat corns, calluses, or any other foot complications by yourself! If you notice any complications whatsoever, you should always contact your doctor for the appropriate treatment.
- You should see your foot and ankle surgeon on a regular basis to prevent any complications from arising.
When to See a Doctor About Your Feet
If you notice any of the following changes in your feet, you should seek immediate medical attention:
- Changes in the color of your foot.
- Swelling in your foot or ankle.
- Temperature changes in your feet.
- Persistent sores on your feet.
- Pain or tingling in your feet or ankles.
- Ingrown toenails.
- Athlete’s foot or other fungal infections.
- Dry, cracked skin on or around your heels.
- Any signs of infection.
Most doctors will attempt to treat any diabetic foot conditions without the use of surgery.
They will usually try to keep your wounds clean and dressed, and have you wear some kind of immobilization device, such as a cast boot or total contact cast to prevent infections.
Nonsurgical Treatment for Type 2 Diabetes
Most patients who have Type 2 Diabetes can manage their condition through diet control, exercise, home blood glucose testing, and, in some cases, oral medication and/or insulin.
Approximately 40 percent of patients with Type 2 Diabetes require regular insulin injections.
If nonsurgical treatments prove unsuccessful, your doctor may then recommend that you undergo some form of surgery.
The types of surgery a diabetes patient might undergo include:
- The removal of small amounts of decaying or dead tissue due to gangrene.
- Amputation of single toes, sections of the foot, or the leg below or above the knee.
- Surgical stabilization of Charcot’s Foot.
- An arterial bypass for Peripheral Vascular Disease to increase blood flow to your feet.
- Endovascular surgery with placement of stents, which are small devices used to keep your blood vessels open.
Your doctor will continue to observe your healing progress post-surgery, especially if you contracted gangrene at some point.
Type 2 diabetes, in particular, is often associated with obesity, so it is crucial to practice regular physical activity.
Numerous studies have shown that this can significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Currently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is also studying ways to prevent, cure, and otherwise take better care of people with diabetes, so as to prevent further devastating complications.
This video goes into more detail about diabetes and foot care.
Diabetes and foot care might seem like two different medical conditions, but they occur together more often than you think.
Luckily, if you follow these diabetic foot care tips, you don’t have to worry about treating these foot complications too often.
How do you handle diabetic foot care?