Diabetes: Caring For Foot Health
As the weather warms, many people look forward to trading in the heavy socks and shoes of winter for sandals and flip flops. But for those with diabetes, caution needs to come before running barefoot in the grass. Foot health for diabetics is a critical part of everyday care, but with simple daily checks and habits, you can keep your toes wiggling.
Nerve Supply to the Foot
For many with diabetes, in fact almost half of all diabetic patients, nerve pain and damage, also called neuropathy, and decreased circulation, are just part of the disease. Both the nervous and circulatory systems work throughout the body and impact everything from how often your heart beats, to how frequently you breathe in and out, and they each play a specific role that can be impacted by diabetes.
Nerve damage impacts the brain’s ability to get messages all the way down to the feet. Foot injuries may then not be felt which can cause minor injuries to develop into diabetic ulcers. Ulcers can form when skin tissue breaks down and exposes the underlying skin layers, sometimes all the way down to the bone. Ulcers are most common under big toes and on the balls of the feet. If not treated, ulcers can quickly become infected which could eventually require amputation of the feet.
Circulation problems can result when arteries become clogged often caused by smoking, high blood fat, and increased glucose levels. Since feet are far away from the heart, poor circulation limits the blood supply that reaches this area. The reduced blood supply can mean that cuts and sores don’t heal.
While problems stemming from nerve damage and circulation can occur in any part of the body they are most frequently found in the feet and legs, and may not be obvious. For some, it manifests as numbness, tingling, or pain, but for others, there may be nothing noticeably wrong. If the nerves of the feet are damaged, you may not feel the pain of a blister or cut, the itchiness of an infection, or even the throbbing from a hurt ankle.
When to See A Doctor
There are symptoms of nerve damage in the feet that go beyond tingling, burning, or pain. You should visit your doctor if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- • Inability to feel heat or cold
- • Pain in the legs or cramping anywhere from the buttocks to feet during exercise
- • Swollen feet
- • Fungal infection between the toes
- • Blisters, sores, or ingrown toenails
- • Thickened yellow toenails
- • Dry, cracked skin on your feet
- • Loss of hair on lower legs, feet, and toes
- • Foot ulcer
Outside of symptoms, there are risk factors for diabetes feet problems. Age is a risk factor you can’t escape and if you’re over 40 your risk increases. Also the longer you have had diabetes, the greater the risk of developing nerve damage or circulatory problems that can lead to diabetes feet. But other risk factors for diabetes feet can be reduced such as being overweight, having high blood pressure or cholesterol, and having difficulty managing blood sugar levels. As with any diabetes complications, the risk is reduced by adopting healthy eating habits and starting an exercise program.
Tips For Healthy Feet
The best diabetic foot health is to check your feet daily for any symptoms of diabetes feet. It is important to visually inspect the feet since nerve damage may prevent you from feeling any injury to your feet. Feet should also be gently washed, thoroughly dried, and covered with a moisturizer each day. Moisturizer, however, should not be used between the toes as it can promote fungus.
Toenail care for diabetes is also important. Nails should be trimmed straight across and not too short, and any rough edges should be filed. The goal is to avoid ingrown toenails. Seek a professional to help with nail care if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself. Similarly, visit a healthcare professional to remove any corns or calluses. At-home treatments can burn the skin.
What you wear on your feet matters. For those with diabetes feet, breathable materials are best. Shoes should be made from leather, suede, or canvas, and socks that wick away moisture while keeping the feet warm are optimal. There are socks specially made for diabetics that do have wicking ability but also offer extra cushioning and a higher ankle, as well as non-elastic tops for better comfort. As much as bare feet might be appealing, those with diabetes should stick with shoes and socks to best protect their feet. And don’t forget to shake out your shoes before you put them on. A pebble inside your shoe may not be felt and could cause a blister, bruise, or cut.
Finally, one of the best tips for preventing or reducing the risk of diabetes feet is to maintain blood glucose levels. Whether you take insulin or other medications or not, testing blood sugar levels is a daily part of managing diabetes. You can make it painless and more convenient with the Genteel Lancing Device. But no matter what method you use to test your blood glucose, work with your healthcare team to find the best times and frequency to test, and what your optimal numbers are. And remember to make sure your doctor is checking your feet on every visit.