Diabetes And Your Feet
Diabetes Mellitus is a disease that affects over 2 million Canadians. The unstable blood sugar from Diabetes can cause all kinds of complications. Today we will look at foot problems.
Foot Problems related to Diabetes
Foot problems in Diabetes happen when unstable blood sugar damages blood vessels and reduces circulation in the legs and feet. This loss of circulation can slow down healing, make skin thin and dry, and reduce muscle strength. All of these can increase the chance of a foot injury. But their worst effect is nerve damage, which we call Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy. When this happens, you can lose some or all feeling in your toes, feet, or even higher up your legs.
If Neuropathy sets in, you lose a very important protective system: pain. Without pain, you won’t feel it if there’s a stone in your shoe, or if you hit your toe on a chair, or even if you break a bone! Because of this, it becomes very easy to injure your feet – sometimes seriously – without knowing it. You can then continue to walk on the injured foot, making the injury worse with every step.
The injury you can’t feel is just the beginning. The same low circulation that caused the neuropathy in the first place now slows down healing and makes the injury vulnerable to serious infection. Wounds can get worse rather than better (ulcers). Broken bones can set in the wrong position. If infection turns to gangrene, amputation may be required.
Special Care for Diabetes
Even if you don’t have neuropathy, taking good care of your feet is a must if you are Diabetic. With or without neuropathy, healing from little scrapes and minor bruises can be a major ordeal. To take care of your feet:
- Most importantly, pay attention to your feet. They can tell you a lot! Inspect your feet every day. Use a mirror or camera if it helps to see the bottom. Look for any signs of injury: redness, scrapes, cuts, calluses or corns. Don’t forget to look between your toes. If you see anything out of the ordinary, talk to your doctor as soon as you can. If your feet ever become swollen and red, go immediately to the Emergency Room as a serious injury may have taken place.
- Wear good quality footwear and have it fit by qualified professionals. Most people with Diabetes (even those without diagnosed neuropathy) tend towards shoes that fit too small, so don’t worry if the shoes feel a bit too big. This is why it is important to be fit by a pro.
- Never go barefoot. We all know how easy it is to accidentally smash a toe against a chair’s leg while walking around the house. If your circulation is even just a bit impaired, that smashed toe could mean broken bones half-way up your foot. Wear sandals or slippers with strong soles around the house.
- If you do have any foot pain or calluses, ask your doctor about foot orthotics. They can reduce pressure points that may otherwise lead to ulcers. Calluses are a pressure point warning sign: don’t ignore them.
- Baby your feet. Wash and dry them carefully every day, especially between the toes. Wear non-restricting Diabetic socks. If your skin is dry, use a medical-grade moisturizer (ask your doctor for a recommendation). Don’t cut your own toenails, and definitely don’t go for a retail pedicure. Instead, have regular Foot Care Treatments by a Foot Care Nurse.
Prevention through Knowledge
As with all Diabetic complications, the best thing you can do for foot complications is take good care of your blood sugar levels. Attend an educational seminar if you haven’t in the past few years. In BC’s Lower Mainland, these are provided by the Fraser Health Authority’s Diabetes Education Centre. Ask your doctor for a referral.
For more information about what Diabetes means for your feet, or to get a professional opinion of your footwear, please visit any of Kintec’s ten Lower Mainland locations.