DIABETES & FOOT HEALTH: WHAT EVERY PATIENT NEEDS TO KNOW
If you’re diabetic, you know you have to pay attention to diet and exercise. But there’s another important health factor you might be overlooking: your feet. Here’s why foot health is so important for people with diabetes.
WHY FOOT HEALTH MATTERS FOR DIABETES
Even though everyone can benefit from proper foot care, it’s critical for people with diabetes for two main reasons.
The first, diabetic neuropathy can cause nerve damage over time, particularly in the legs and feet. The symptoms and dangers of this condition include:
- Numbness and loss of feeling in the feet (that make it harder to notice the warning signs of more serious problems)
- Changes to the shape of the feet, resulting in deformities such as Charcot foot
- Weakening of bones in the foot to the point of breaking
Second, diabetes can minimize blood flow to the feet (typically as a result of peripheral artery disease), which makes it difficult for cuts and sores to heal properly. It is essential to prevent cuts and sores from becoming infected. Infections can lead to gangrene, which results in the need for amputations.
Research published by the American Diabetes Association states that, “[A]t least half of all amputations occur in people with diabetes, most commonly because of an infected diabetic foot ulcer.” Ulcers occur when calluses break down into infected sores. While treatable, they often become chronic: “foot ulcer recurrence is common, occurring in up to 50% of cases, and using the term ‘in remission’ has been deemed more appropriate than describing an ulcer as ‘healed.’”
7 TIPS FOR DIABETES FOOT CARE
For many people with diabetes, preventative foot care is the best way to support their overall health and avoid future diseases, pains, and complications.
To help keep you healthy, we’ve provided 7 tips on how to take care of your feet with diabetes:
1. FOLLOW YOUR DOCTOR’S ADVICE
Managing your glucose levels is key to overall health as high blood sugar levels make it more difficult for your body to fight infections. Your doctor knows what works for your body so following their guidelines is your best way to keep on track.
2. CHECK YOUR FEET DAILY
Look for problems, including sores, blisters, cuts, ingrown toenails, changes to your skin or nails, swelling, unusual odor, hot areas, and corns or calluses. Fungal infections, such as Athlete’s foot and nail infections, are also common with diabetes. A podiatrist can help you learn to identify these early warning signs and tell you how best to address them. If left untreated, calluses can break down into open sores (ulcers), which should be treated by a podiatrist immediately.
3. WASH YOUR FEET DAILY
It is also important to wash your feet daily with warm or lukewarm, soapy water, and completely dry them afterward. Using moisturizer helps prevent cracked, dry skin (which can lead to infections), but avoid applying lotion between the toes as this creates a moist environment in which fungal infections can thrive. Additionally, don’t soak your feet in water, unless instructed so by your doctor, as this can dry out your skin.
4. CAREFULLY CUT YOUR TOENAILS
Proper toenail trimming helps prevent infections caused by cuts in skin and hangnails. Cut straight across and smooth with a nail file in one direction. A podiatrist can also help with this if you have trouble seeing or reaching your feet.
5. ALWAYS WEAR CLOSE-TOED SHOES OR SLIPPERS AND SOCKS
Proper footwear helps prevent injury to your feet. Warm socks and waterproof shoes keep feet dry and warm, which is especially important during Connecticut winters.
According to the American Diabetes Association, “Inappropriate footwear is the most common cause of [foot] trauma in Western countries.” A podiatrist can help suggest comfortable, well-fitting shoes and may also recommend orthotics (shoe inserts) if you have certain foot problems, such as Charcot’s foot, hammertoes, or bunions. You can also get padded socks designed for diabetes patients. Wear clean socks in bed to keep your feet warm. Don’t use heating pads or hot water bottles, which can cause burns.
6. MAINTAIN BLOOD FLOW TO YOUR FEET.
Good blood flow helps prevent and fight off infections and diseases. Walking and stretching regularly help keeps your blood flowing. When sitting, elevate your feet. Smoking can significantly lower blood flow, and that makes it difficult for wounds to heal.
7. SEE A PODIATRIST REGULARLY.
Depending on your medical history, diabetics should see a podiatrist at least once every year. Your podiatrist can work with you to create an effective and individualized plan for your foot health. If you don’t already have a podiatrist, you can find one through the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA).