Diabetes is a chronic (lifelong) disease in which there are high levels of sugar in your blood. Poor diet, too little exercise and obesity means that diabetes is on the rise, worldwide. Diabetes can be managed with healthy eating and medication, but it does put you at risk for several issues – one of these is problems with your feet.
What causes diabetic foot problems?
People with diabetes can experience serious complications with their feet for two reasons: nerve damage and poor blood-flow.
Why are foot problems serious?
Chafes, fungal infections or wounds to the feet usually heal quickly, but for diabetics, poor blood flow can mean that antibiotics can’t get to the infection site easily. If the infection spreads to the bloodstream, this process can be life-threatening – so an unchecked infection can lead to amputation of the foot or leg!
Symptoms to watch out for
- A sprain, strain, bruise, overuse, improperly fitting shoes, or underlying infection can cause persistent pain, for example.
- If your shoes or socks chafe against your skin abnormally, it can cause redness, which may be a sign of infection, especially if it surrounds a wound.
- Swelling of the feet or legs can be a sign of inflammation or infection.
- Other signs of poor circulation also include pain in the legs or buttocks that worsens with walking, hair that no longer grows on the lower legs and feet, and hard shiny skin on the legs.
- Localised warmth can be a sign of infection or inflammation, perhaps from wounds that won’t heal or that heal slowly.
- Numbness in the feet or legs can be a sign of nerve damage, which increases the chance of leg and foot problems.
- Callouses and corns may also be a sign of chronic trauma to the foot. However, toenail fungus, athlete’s foot and ingrown toenails may lead to more serious bacterial infections.
How to prevent some of these infections
Treatments for diabetic foot problems have improved, but prevention is still the best way to avoid diabetic complications. People with diabetes should learn how to examine their own feet and how to recognise the early signs and symptoms of diabetic foot problems. Some prevention strategies are:
- regular leg and foot self-examinations
- choosing proper footwear
- regular exercise
- avoiding injuries by keeping footpaths clear
- having your feet examined by a doctor at least once a year
Athlete’s foot and toenail care
Ingrown toenails, corns, callouses and bunions are generally caused by footwear that doesn’t fit properly. They’re unsightly and uncomfortable and can make shoe-shopping a nightmare! The most common symptom of athlete’s foot is cracked, flaking, peeling skin between the toes or side of the foot. It’s important to know that someone with a diabetic foot stands a higher chance of getting a bacterial infection; amputation can be a risk for those with both ingrown toenails and athlete’s foot.
Prevention and treatment
- Wear sturdy, comfortable shoes whenever feasible to protect your feet. To be sure your shoes fit properly, see a podiatrist (foot doctor). If you have flat feet, bunions or hammertoes, you may need prescription shoes or shoe inserts.
- Always cut your nails with a safety clipper, never with scissors. If you have difficulty with your vision or using your hands, let your doctor do it for you or train a family member how to do it safely.
- Examine your feet daily, especially after trauma to your feet and report any abnormalities to your physician.
- Use a water-based moisturiser every day (but not between your toes) to prevent dry skin and cracking.
- Avoid elastic socks and pantyhose because they may affect circulation.
- If you smoke any form of tobacco, quitting can be one of the best things you can do to prevent problems with your feet. Smoking speeds up damage to blood vessels, leading to poor circulation.
- Follow a healthy low GI diet, take your medications and check your blood sugar regularly to keep your diabetes under control.