High blood sugar levels from diabetes can lead to many health problems, some of which can affect your feet. Foot problems associated with diabetes often involve sores or injuries that result from loss of feeling in your feet.
Many diabetics also have reduced blood flow to the feet which can make it difficult for sores on the feet to heal and increase the risk of infection. If not treated properly, an infection may cause tissue damage severe enough to require amputation. However, foot problems associated with diabetes can often be prevented by eating a well-balanced diet, taking medications as prescribed, and checking regularly for any sores on the feet or signs of infection.
Causes and symptoms of diabetes-related foot problems
Individuals with diabetes often develop foot problems as a result of nerve damage and peripheral vascular disease. Not all diabetics suffer from these conditions, but it is common in individuals who have had diabetes for several years or those who do not have the disease under control.
Nerve Damage (Diabetic Neuropathy)
Nerve damage related to diabetes can cause a loss of feeling in your feet. Without the ability to feel cold, heat, or pain you may sustain an injury and not even realize it. If not treated, the injury may get worse and can become infected.
Nerve damage can also affect your balance and positioning of your feet. Over time this can cause your feet and toes to change shape. If you wear shoes that rub against the bones or soft tissues of your feet, sores may begin to form. Even a small sore on a foot can turn into an ulcer if it goes unnoticed or is not treated properly. For this reason, it is important to check your feet daily for redness, inflammation, calluses, and cuts.
Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD)
Individuals with diabetes may also suffer from peripheral vascular disease in which the arteries harden and become narrow. This causes reduced blood flow to your feet, which can make it difficult for sores to heal and increases the risk for infection. Signs of poor circulation include swelling of your ankles or feet and wounds that take a long time to heal.
Treatment of diabetes-related foot problems
Health problems associated with diabetes, such as nerve damage and poor blood flow, can often be prevented by eating a well-balanced diet and taking medications to help keep the disease under control. However, problems may still develop, especially if you have had diabetes for several years.
If you are suffering from nerve damage, it is important to bring your glucose level within the normal range in order to prevent further damage. Any pain associated with the condition can usually be treated with over-the-counter pain medications.
If nerve damage has caused loss of feeling in your feet, precautions should be taken to prevent injury. Shoes and socks should be worn to protect your feet. Be sure to wear shoes that are comfortable and fit well to avoid sores and blisters, and check your feet regularly for any signs of rubbing. If cuts or sores develop, treat them right away and keep the area clean to prevent infection. If an infection develops, be sure to seek immediate medical attention. If left untreated, severe tissue damage can result and amputation may be necessary.
If you are a diabetic with poor blood flow, you may benefit from regular exercise. Walking and other light exercises can help to improve circulation and increase blood flow to your feet. In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help with circulation. However, if the condition is severe, surgery may also be necessary to enlarge an artery that has become too narrow.
If you have diabetes and develop foot problems, consult your doctor to learn more about your treatment options.