If you have diabetes, you’re at risk for complications that affect your feet that could lead to amputation. About 50% of women and men with diabetes develop debilitating foot pain while at least 10% develop foot ulcers. Foot amputations from diabetes are on the rise, particularly among younger patients.
Take steps now to prevent diabetic foot problems before they start. Laura Schweger, DPM, Evan M. Ross, DPM — experienced and caring podiatrists at Optima Foot and Ankle in Bend, Oregon, and Deschutes County — want your feet to stay healthy, comfortable, and functional. They provided this guide to help you stop diabetic foot problems in their tracks.
Why does diabetes cause foot problems?
Uncontrolled blood sugar that circulates through your veins is the root cause of diabetic foot problems. Over time, high blood sugar damages your nerves and circulatory system, leading to diabetic neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease. These conditions, in turn, can lead to more foot problems.
Diabetic neuropathy (i.e., nerve damage) numbs the feelings and sensations in your feet. Because you can’t feel when your foot is cut or irritated, or develops blisters, you have a higher risk for infection and gangrene. If you develop gangrene, your foot must be amputated to stop it from spreading and ending your life.
The damage from uncontrolled diabetes also leads to peripheral vascular disease. When you have this condition, the blocked blood vessels in your extremities prevent your feet from getting enough blood. The result? Any wounds you receive are slower to heal and more prone to infection.
How to prevent diabetic foot problems
You can take steps now to mitigate your risk for foot problems, including infections and amputation. Our top tips are:
Control your glucose
Controlling the level of glucose (i.e., sugar) in your blood is the first step in preventing diabetic foot problems. Research shows that people with diabetes who manage their blood glucose prevent nerve damage in the first place. Glucose control reduces pain and prevents further damage in patients who already have neuropathy.
Eat fresh, healthy foods and eliminate sugars, junk food, processed foods, and sugary beverages. Your doctor may also prescribe oral medications and insulin to regulate your glucose levels before and after meals.
Take care of your feet
Inspect your feet every day. Look at every angle: the sides, bottom, and tops of your feet as well as your heels and toes.
Be aware of any signs of irritation to help prevent more serious wounds from forming. Wash your feet regularly in warm, soapy water. Be sure to dry your feet thoroughly — especially between your toes.
Trim your toenails straight across to prevent ingrown toenails. Moisturize your feet regularly to keep your skin supple and resilient. If you need help with foot care, our team can help with tips and specialized products.
When you exercise, your heart rate and blood flow increase, improving the circulation of blood and nutrients to your entire body. That’s why regular exercise can help combat the effects of poor blood flow and damaged nerves that diabetes can cause.
You don’t have to run or hit the sports fields, either. Studies show that a regular walking program can stop diabetic neuropathy or slow its progress in patients who already exhibit symptoms
Regular exercise also helps reduce blood glucose. Adding more exercise makes managing diabetes easier than dietary changes alone. Clear any exercise program with your doctor before getting started.
Choose foot-friendly shoes
Properly fitting footwear is always important, but is essential if you have diabetes. Shoes that are just snug enough but not too tight help prevent blisters and other small foot wounds from forming. You may choose to look into specially crafted diabetic shoes and inserts.
Shop for shoes later in the day. Feet tend to swell as the day wears on, so if you buy in the morning, your shoes may be too snug by night.
Look for shoes made from materials such as soft leather that can accommodate changes in your feet due to swelling. Always wear socks with your shoes to reduce friction and the risk of blisters and other irritation.
By putting these tips into practice, you can lead a healthier, more active life and reduce your chances of experiencing debilitating foot problems.
Get help with your feet
The American Diabetes Association recommends that anyone with diabetes receive a podiatric exam every six months. If you’ve developed foot issues already, seek care more frequently. Our team advises you when and how often you should come in for diabetic foot care. We also help you work to prevent further problems from arising.
For help with diabetic foot care and wound care, reach out to our team today by phoning the office or using our appointment request form.