Diabetes, Feet and You – Taking Care of Diabetic Feet
If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, undoubtedly your physician has mentioned about the importance of taking care of diabetic feet. They probably discuss the importance of you checking your own feet daily – and hopefully, they have instructed you to seek medical advice if you find something out of the ordinary.
But have they discussed with you what diabetes can do to your feet and why it is important for you to perform these “daily foot checks”?
Blood Sugar and Your Feet
It is no secret that having prolonged high blood sugars can have detrimental effects on the body. It is often reported on the news, in magazines, and you’ll hear it from your physician. In fact, you’ll probably hear it from your well-meaning neighbor too.
The most common foot problem associated with diabetes is called neuropathy – or nerve damage, which causes tingling, pain, weakness, and even loss of sensation.
High Blood Sugar Levels, Circulation, and Foot Ulcers
Elevated blood sugar levels can also cause issues with circulation (the blood flow) of the lower extremities.
So, when blood sugar levels are running high, or even when they’re not but you’ve also got coexisting conditions, such as hypertension and hypercholesteremia, your blood vessels in your legs can harden. When this happens, blood does not flow as well, causing circulation issues.
When you have these two issues together, you’ve got a recipe for disaster – foot ulcers and subsequent poor wound healing.
Ulcers can form anywhere on the feet but most often form on the bottom of the big toe or on the ball of the foot. They typically do not hurt. Usually, they develop without notice, because you are unaware they are there; this is because of loss of sensation from neuropathy.
Other Complications of Elevated Blood Sugars
Other complications include skin changes to the feet and calluses. Your feet can become very dry and crack – which is a portal of infection. They can also peel.
This occurs because the nerves that controlled oil production to your feet are no longer enervated. Calluses can eventually form open sores; while they are not dangerous immediately, they are something to be watched by your physician or a podiatrist.
They should never, under any circumstances, be removed on your own. Your physician or podiatrist may recommend using a pumice stone but only use one at the recommendation of your healthcare provider.
Why Is It Important to Take Care of Your Feet?
The above complications are uncomfortable, cumbersome and at times, painful.
Foot complications can also be costly. In fact, a 2007 study estimated that the treatment of diabetes and its complications cost the United States $116 billion – yes, billion – annually. One-third of that cost went directly to the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers.
You may be wondering, “Why does treatment for a diabetic foot cost so much?” Well, folks, people with diabetic ulcers “require more frequent emergency department visits, are more commonly admitted to a hospital and require a longer length of stays.”
Anecdotally, the higher those blood sugar numbers climb, the more frequent those hospitalizations, and the longer those hospitalizations, the higher the risk of amputation.
Mayo Clinic notes that diabetic foot ulcers cause 80% of amputations.
However, just because you have diabetes does not mean that you will have any of the complications mentioned above that can lead to an amputation. In fact, typically the need for an amputation is the result of several of the following factors:
- High blood sugar levels
- Peripheral neuropathy
- High blood pressure
- Poor circulation
- A history of foot ulcers
- A past amputation
- Kidney disease
The news is promising – diabetes care has improved over the past 20 years, which has led to a reduction in lower limb amputations by more than 50 percent!
You can minimize your risk of foot complications by controlling your blood sugars, checking your feet daily, practicing proper diabetic foot care, notifying your physician of any changes to your feet, and keeping your diabetes appointments with your physician.