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Diabetes can pose significant problems for the health of your feet and legs. The risk of circulation problems, balance issues, nerve damage, wounds that won’t heal, infections that lead to amputation, and other consequences increases tremendously for those with this all-too-common immunodeficiency disease. For those who suffer with diabetes, regular vigilance and proactive, comprehensive foot care is absolutely critical to prevent complications and to remain active and healthy over the long term.
Complications of Diabetes on the Feet
Some of the more common (and dangerous) complications of diabetes include:
- Diabetic Neuropathy. This may show as numbness, burning, or altered sensation. High blood sugar damages nerves and nerve function, particularly in the peripheral nerves that supply sensation to your hands and feet.
- Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD) and Claudication. Decreased blood flow to the limbs slows the healing process. Claudication is cramping and pain in the leg(s) after activity. This is a red flag that indicates critical reduced blood flow. These symptoms will improve with rest but reoccur with a similar amount of walking.
- Diabetic Wounds/Ulcers. Lack of sensation and circulation is a combination that can turn even minor issues into large ulcers that are slow to heal and may become infected.
- Gangrene. Critically low blood supply and/or significant infection of a wound will cause a darkening of the skin. This can lead to a potentially life-threatening condition.
- Charcot foot. Collapsed or rocker bottom foot. In cases with severe sensitivity loss, you may not even feel a major injury such as broken bones. Continuing to walk on such injuries can lead to substantial deformity.
- Infections. High blood sugar prevents the white blood cells from doing their job of fighting infection. This is why diabetics are 4 times more likely to get an infection.
- Amputation. If infected wounds are not treated in time and spread, amputation of a toe, part of the foot, or even much of limb may be required.
Regular Diabetic Foot Checks Are Crucial
Because chronic high blood sugar often leads to reduced nerve function in the extremities, you may not always be able to “feel” when something (a cut, scrape, or even a more serious injury) is wrong. Diabetes also reduces blood flow, those injuries take longer to heal and may form ulcers or get infected. That means that regular at-home foot checks (at least once daily) along with professional examinations (at the very minimum once per year; ideally several times) are extremely important.
Each day, after a bath or shower, sit down and take a few moments to carefully inspect your feet, including oft-overlooked areas (such as between the toes). If you need to, employ a small mirror or use a smart phone and a selfie stick (images can then be enlarged). Use your eyes and your hands to scan for cuts, bruises, bumps, cracks or dry skin, irregular textures, rashes or redness—anything out of the ordinary.
Make an appointment with us right away if you notice anything out of the ordinary—even minor issues can escalate if not treated.