Individuals with diabetes must monitor their blood sugar, as excessive glucose in the blood leads to serious complications. Many of the complications affect the feet, with two directly affecting the feet and others being foot problems that can bring about infection and a new set of complications. Anyone suffering from diabetes needs to see a podiatrist and report any new symptoms at all doctor visits to catch problems early and treat them.
How Can Diabetes Directly Affect the Feet?
Diabetic neuropathy occurs when uncontrolled diabetes damages the nerves in the legs and feet. When this happens, the person can no longer feel cold, heat, or pain in the area, a condition referred to as sensory diabetic neuropathy. When they can’t feel cuts or sores on the foot, they could become worse and develop an infection. Additionally, nerves that control muscles in the feet might sustain damage because of diabetic neuropathy and fail to work correctly. In some patients, the foot no longer aligns properly and additional pressure is put on one part of the foot.
Other diabetics struggle with peripheral vascular disease, resulting for the disrupted blood flow seen with this disease. When blood cannot flow properly, sores and cuts take longer to heal. If the disrupted blood flow affects the arms and legs, this disease arises and the risk of developing an ulcer or gangrene increases. Gangrene involves the death of tissue in a body part resulting from a lack of blood to the area. Socks for diabetics may be of help for individuals who find blood no longer flows to the legs and feet.
Additional Foot Problems Diabetics Struggle With
Any person may develop a foot problem. However, certain conditions appear more in diabetics. When a diabetic comes down with a foot issue, infection and serious complications could follow, including amputation.
Athlete’s foot occurs when germs enter through cracks in the skin and bring about an infection. This fungus causes redness, cracking, and itching of the foot. Fortunately, anti-fungal medications in either pill or cream form kill the fungus.
Blisters form when a shoe rubs the same spot repeatedly. This occurs when shoes don’t fit properly or are worn without socks, and untreated blisters can lead to an infection. Never pop a blister, as the covering keeps the area from becoming infected. It’s best to use an antibacterial cream and keep the area clean and covered in bandages to prevent this from happening.
With bunions, the big toe bends toward the second toe. When this happens, the area where the big toe meets the foot becomes red and callused. At times, it protrudes and hardens. Bunions may form on one foot or both, and they are passed down through families in some cases. However, high-heeled shoes with narrow toes frequently cause this problem, as the shoe puts pressure on the big toe. In response to this pressure, the big toe turns inward toward the second toe. Treating this condition involves the use of felt or foam padding to prevent irritation, a device to separate the toes, or surgery in severe cases.
A buildup of hard skin on the underside of the foot indicates you have developed a callus. This condition comes when body weight is unevenly distributed over the feet, by shoes that don’t fit, or by a skin condition. Calluses aren’t uncommon, so the doctor needs to determine if they require medical treatment. Some patients find they can treat it at home with a pumice stone and the use of cushioned pads and insoles. If this doesn’t work, certain medications help to soften the skin, but never cut calluses or try to remove them with sharp objects.
Corns also come as a result of a buildup of hard skin. However, they occur near a bony area of the toe or between the toes. Shoes that rub up against the toes or those that cause friction between the toes account for many cases of corns. When the shoes don’t fit properly, they put pressure on these areas and the corn develops. As with calluses, use a pumice stone to remove the hard skin. Never use sharp objects to remove the corns or over-the-counter medications designed to dissolve corns.
Diabetic ulcers are breaks in the skin or deep sores that may become infected. These ulcers develop from minor scrapes, a cut that isn’t healing, or from shoes that don’t fit properly. Ulcers require prompt treatment, so ask the doctor how to treat them if they appear. As many as ten percent of diabetics will have foot ulcers at some time.
Dry skin often cracks, and these cracks allow germs to enter the body. Moisturizing soaps and lotions keet the skin soft and moist and help to prevent cracks. Speak to the doctor to determine which products are best.
Fungal Nail Infections
Fungal nail infections lead to discolored nails that are thick and brittle, and some infected nails crumble. Shoes provide a warm, moist, dark environment perfect for final growth, and individuals who injure their nail become more at risk of developing a fungal infection. This problem remains hard to treat, as medications applied directly to the nail rarely work. The patient must see a doctor to get a prescription for an oral medicine to treat the infection, and the nail may need to be removed as part of the treatment.
Weakened muscles lead to hammertoes or toes that bend. When a muscle weakens, tendons in the toes contract and the toe curls under the foot. Hammertoes often run in families and may come about from shoes that aren’t long enough. Walking becomes difficult when a person has hammertoes and blisters, sores, or calluses may form. Treatment consists of corrective shoes and splints, and, in severe cases, they may require surgery.
Ingrown toenails occur when the nail grows into the skin, leading to pain and pressure along the edge of the nail. When this happens, the nail cuts into the skin, bringing about pain, swelling, redness, drainage, and infection if left untreated. Pressure from shoes remains the most common cause of ingrown toenails, although toe crowding, repeated trauma to the feet, and improperly trimmed nails have all been linked to this condition. To prevent the toenails from growing into the skin, trim them properly. Some find the problem recurs or an infection develops. In this case, visit the doctor to determine the best course of treatment.
Plantar warts look like calluses, but appear on the heel or ball of the foot. Some warts look like they have tiny black spots or pinholes in their center, and these warts are painful. Some grow in isolation while others appear in clusters. A virus infecting the outer layer of skin is responsible for plantar warts, and a doctor determines the best way to remove them when they do appear.
Caring for Your Feet If You Are Diabetic
Prevention remains the best medicine for foot problems associated with diabetes. In the event a problem arises, prompt treatment reduces the risk of complications. The following tips ensure you care for your feet properly at all times.
Monitor your diabetes and alert the doctor to any changes. Follow all advice regarding your diet, medication, and physical activity, and keep your blood sugar within the recommended range provided by the doctor.
Wash the feet daily with a mild soap and warm water. Use the elbow to check the water temperature, as nerve damage may affect the hands. Avoid soaking the feet and dry them well when done, particularly between the toes.
While washing the feet, check them for any sores, calluses, blisters, or other problems. This task becomes critical if you are struggling with poor blood flow. Don’t forget the lotion after drying the feet, but never use lotion between the toes.
Using an emery board or pumice stone, smooth calluses and corns after washing the feet, as this is when the skin is soft. Never move the pumice stone or emery board back and forth. Only move it in one direction.
Examine the toenails weekly and trim them straight across with a nail clipper. Never round the corners or cut down the sides, as this increases the risk of ingrown toenails. After trimming the nails with the clippers, smooth them with a nail file.
Choose shoes carefully, always going with slippers or closed-toed shoes. Never go barefoot at home or outside and avoid wearing sandals. Socks or stockings are needed at all times and make sure they fit the feet properly and come with soft elastic. Leather or canvas shoes work best, but break them in over time. Individuals with foot deformities need to visit a specialty store to be properly fitted for shoes.
Protect the feet from cold and heat and encourage adequate blood flow. When sitting, prop the feet up, never cross the legs for extended periods of time, wiggle the toes and move the ankles several times each day. Quit smoking, as tobacco use decreases blood flow.
Have the doctor check your feet at every visit and see a podiatrist every two or three months to catch problems early. If a problem arises between visits, call the doctor or podiatrist right away.
Diabetics must care for their feet at all times. If help is needed with this task, get it. This may involve calling in a home health aide or other professional, but don’t put this off. Regular attention to the feet ensures problems are caught early so they can be treated. This benefits you in many ways, so follow these tips at all times and report any new symptoms to your doctor. It’s your health and you must protect it at all times.