As if dealing with insulin shots and low blood sugar weren’t enough, many diabetics must also deal with foot pain and other complications of the feet, which can lead to amputation. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), diabetics are eight times more likely to receive an amputation of the foot or the leg than non-diabetics. Although amputation is an extreme remedy, it’s often necessary when feet complications become unmanageable or untreatable.
Because diabetics have abnormal blood sugar levels and constricted blood vessels, they are more prone to developing foot problems. Of course, each individual is different and may develop none, one or more of the following complications:
- Poor circulation – Over time, the blood vessels in the legs and feet of diabetics can constrict and harden, making it tougher for blood to circulate through those parts of the body. Once poor circulation in the feet arises, it can be difficult for sores and wounds to heal and for infections to be fought off. One of the best ways to prevent poor circulation is to exercise on a regular basis.
- Foot ulcers – A foot ulcer is a sore that typically develops on the ball of the foot, but can also develop on the big toe or on the side of the foot. Minor ulcers affect just the surface of the foot, but if left untreated, they can become infected and eventually warrant an amputation. For that reason, it’s important for diabetics to seek medical attention at the first sign of an ulcer. Ulcers can be surgically removed and treated with antibiotics. However, poor circulation and high blood sugar levels could cause them to return.
- Neuropathy – Neuropathy is, essentially, nerve damage in the legs and feet. Once the nerves are damaged, the individual may have difficulty feeling the sensations of heat, cold and pain. While the ability to feel pain may sound great, it is actually a serious health risk. Those who have neuropathy can easily sustain a severe injury without knowing it. For instance, people with neuropathy are advised to warm up their feet by wearing socks instead of using a heating pad or a hot water bottle as they can burn the skin without even feeling it. Neuropathy can also cause the toes and feet to become deformed. This can be corrected by wearing therapeutic shoes.
- Skin damage – Once nerve damage sets in, the body’s natural oils that are controlled by those nerves can no longer moisturize the skin. This can cause the skin to dry out, crack and peel. Calluses can also develop and they can eventually lead to ulcers and an infection if left untreated.
With proper treatment and regular care, all of these complications can be controlled and prevented. But, if left untreated, infection may set in and an amputation may be the only way to fight it.
What To Look For
To avoid amputation and, ideally, the onset of any foot pain or other complications, it’s necessary for diabetics to visit a podiatrist regularly, especially if any of the following symptoms come about:
- Leg or foot pain
- Cramping in the thighs, calves and buttocks
- Loss of sensation
- Burning or tingling in the feet
- Loss of hair on the toes, ankles and lower legs
- Changes in the shape of the foot
- Cracking, peeling or dryness of the skin
- Fungal infections
- Corns, ulcers, sores or blisters
- Ingrown toenails or toenails that become thick and yellow
The best way to prevent these symptoms from developing into a serious problem is to keep diabetes under control. By monitoring blood sugar levels, being diligent with insulin shots and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control, diabetics can manage and prevent foot pain and complications from developing. But there are other precautions that diabetics can take such as:
- Not smoking – Smoking will inhibit blood flow to the feet.
- Exercising regularly – Exercise will keep the blood flowing to the feet.
- Examining feet regularly – Checking the feet for sores, blisters, cuts and other injuries can prevent infection and further complications. In conjunction with self-exams, it’s important to have regular checkups with a podiatrist as well.
- Wearing the right shoes – Shoes should fit snugly but comfortably. They shouldn’t pinch, rub or cause blisters to develop. Shoes are a great way to protect the feet and are recommended over walking barefoot or just with socks.
- Moisturizing your feet daily – This can prevent dry skin and calluses from forming. But do not apply lotion or moisturizer in between the toes as this can lead to an infection. Scrubbing feet with a pumice stone is also a good way to keep calluses under control.
Although diabetics already have a lot on their plate, it’s important that they take the time to care for their feet properly. Through regular care and frequent checkups with a podiatrist, diabetics can keep their feet healthy and free of any pain and or complications.