If you suffer from diabetes mellitus (type 1 or type 2), this means your blood sugar is too high over much of the time. High blood sugar can damage the blood vessels and nerves, starting with the foot. It can result in a loss of feeling in the foot and poor circulation to the foot so that you may not feel it if you developed a sore, cut or blister. This can result in infections of the foot and ulcers. In rare conditions, the damage can be so bad that you require an amputation.
The diabetic foot heals more poorly when compared to normal feet. This is because the circulation is poor to the foot and the nutrients required for healing do not get where they are needed. There is more infection because the white blood cells don’t get to the source of the cut or sore in order to mount an immune response and bacteria take over and the area gets infected. Oxygen, necessary for the running of the cells of the foot is lacking in the diabetic foot so gangrene can set in.
Diabetes can do damage to the nerves, starting with the most distal nerves in the foot. It is related to the nerves being damaged by high blood sugar levels and poor diabetic control. If you suffer from diabetic neuropathy in the feet, it is called peripheral neuropathy. In rare cases, it can affect the hands or arms.
The main symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy include the following:
- Numbness of the feet which can be a permanent problem
- Tingling of the feet, starting with the toes
- Burning of the fee, usually worse in the nighttime
- Pain in the foot that doesn’t go away with rest
In fact, if you have early symptoms and want to resolve them, you need to get your blood sugar levels in the best of control. There are medications a podiatrist can give to resolve some of the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy.
Diabetic Peripheral Vascular Disease
Diabetics are more likely to have plaques of calcium and cholesterol build up in the large and small blood vessels of the arteries leading to the legs. This means fewer red blood cells with life-giving oxygen reach the tissues at the end of the foot and, when you get a cut or sore, pathogen fighting cells have a harder time reaching the site of the injury. You stand a greater chance of getting an infection and losing the foot to gangrene.
Diabetics can help decrease the chances of having diabetic peripheral vascular disease by keeping the blood sugars in the best of control, eating a low cholesterol diet, and possibly taking prescription medications that lower the blood cholesterol. If there is still blockage of the arteries, surgery may be done to open up the blood vessels to restore circulation to the legs and feet.
Practicing Good Foot Hygiene
Diabetics need to take special care of their feet in order to prevent complications of the diabetic foot. These include the following:
- You need to wash your feet every day with mild soap and water. Get between the toes and pat the feet dry afterward. Rubbing the feet dry can irritate the skin.
- Check your feet every day. Use a mirror if you have to in order to locate hard to reach places on the foot. Look between the toes in order to see if any sores have developed.
- Make sure the feet are kept smooth and soft. This means using some kind of lotion or cream on your feet after washing them.
- Keep down corns and calluses. Because you are diabetic, you should probably have this done professionally by a podiatrist or podiatrist.
- Keep your toenails trimmed if you can get down there to trim them. If this is not possible, have a podiatrist trim the nails for you.
- Wear socks and shoes all the time. This protects your feet from getting cut on anything.
- Keep blood flow as normal as possible to your feet. This means not crossing your legs and not wearing socks that bind or cut into the skin.
- Keep your feet out of the hot and cold. They should be protected from the elements at all times.
With most injuries, it is better to work towards prevention rather than rehabilitation. This is especially the case with podiatry for people with diabetes. Learn more about our Diabetic Foot Screening.