Each year, nearly 1.5 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with diabetes. Diabetes can lead to complications in your feet that may be debilitating if not properly managed. Those who suffer from diabetes often face unique foot-related complications that require specialized care and attention.
Seeking guidance from an experienced diabetic foot care podiatrist is vital to managing this condition and preventing serious problems, such as infection or amputation.
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Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disorder characterized by high blood sugar levels, which can cause health problems that may lead to serious complications. In 2019, diabetes ranked seventh as the leading cause of death in America and is responsible for many challenging medical conditions. Many people with diabetes suffer from cataracts, and diabetes causes over 5% of blindness worldwide. Diabetes is also responsible for one million amputations every year.
Possible Diabetes Complications
- Changes in the skin. Diabetes can cause changes in the skin of the feet, making it prone to dryness, cracking, and peeling. The skin may become overly dry due to decreased sweating, leading to fissures and potential infections. Poor blood flow can also result in thin, shiny skin and hair loss on the lower extremities.
- Circulation problems. Diabetes can impair blood flow to the extremities, especially the feet. Reduced circulation can lead to slower healing of wounds and infections and an increased vulnerability to cold feet, cramping, and pain.
- Foot deformities. Nerve damage can weaken the muscles in your feet and lead to foot deformities, such as hammer toes or claw toes. These deformities can cause pain and make walking or wearing shoes difficult.
- Charcot foot. Charcot foot is a condition that can affect individuals with diabetes. It develops when the bones in the foot become weak and then fracture, leading to structural changes and a rocker-like appearance of the foot.
- Ingrown toenails. Ingrown toenails can be a common problem for people with diabetes due to neuropathy, poor circulation, and impaired wound healing. If the toenails are not cut straight across, or they are put under pressure because of tight shoes, ingrown toenails can develop.
- Diabetic foot ulcers. Due to reduced sensation, poor blood flow, and vulnerability to infections, individuals with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing foot ulcers. These open sores or wounds can be difficult to heal and may lead to serious infections if left untreated.
- Infections. Weakened immune function caused by diabetes can make the feet susceptible to infections. Infections can occur more frequently and be challenging to treat in those with diabetes.
- Amputation. In severe cases, diabetes-related foot complications may require amputation. Poor blood flow, combined with the development of ulcers and infections, may lead to tissue death (gangrene), requiring surgical intervention to remove the affected area to save a patient’s life.
- Neuropathy. Diabetes can lead to nerve damage, known as neuropathy, which affects the sensation in the feet. Peripheral neuropathy is the most common type and can result in numbness, tingling, or a loss of feeling in the feet. Nerve damage is especially dangerous since injuries or wounds to the bottoms of the feet may go unnoticed.
Common Signs of Neuropathy
The primary cause of diabetic foot complications is long-term, uncontrolled high blood sugar levels, leading to nerve damage and impaired circulation. This can lead to neuropathy. Identifying the signs and symptoms early is crucial for timely intervention.
Know These Symptoms of Neuropathy
- Numbness or tingling sensation in the feet
- Loss of sensation or reduced ability to feel pain or temperature changes
- Changes in the skin's appearance, such as dryness, redness, or calluses
- Wounds or sores that are slow to heal or do not heal at all
- Pain or cramping in the legs and feet
- Changes in toenail shape or thickening of the toenails
Understanding Diabetic Foot Ulcers
Nearly 15% of diabetic patients develop a diabetic foot ulcer—an open sore or wound that typically occurs on the bottom of the foot. Approximately 6% of those patients will need to be hospitalized because of infection. Additionally, between 14 – 24% of those with a foot ulcer will require their foot to be amputated.
Symptoms of a Foot Ulcer
- Skin discoloration
- Drainage or pus
- Blood stains on your socks
- Black tissue around the wound
Possible Treatment Options for a Foot Ulcer
- Cleaning the ulcer and removing any dead tissue through debridement
- Applying appropriate dressings and ointments that support healing
- Offloading techniques, such as using crutches to keep pressure off the wound
- Taking medication, such as antibiotics to fight off infection
- Keeping blood sugar levels correctly managed to promote wound healing
Possible Prevention of Diabetic Foot Complications
Seeing a podiatrist is crucial for preventing and managing foot complications due to diabetes. It’s important to have routine foot exams that can help identify early signs of problems and allow for timely intervention.
How a Diabetic Foot Care Podiatrist Can Help
- Foot care guidance. Diabetic foot care podiatrists can provide personalized foot care advice, including proper hygiene practices, nail care techniques, and footwear recommendations.
- Suggest diabetic shoes and orthotics. Podiatrists may prescribe specialized diabetic shoes or orthotic devices to provide extra cushioning and support and to reduce pressure points that are prone to foot ulcers.
- Monitoring circulation and nerve function. Regular assessments of circulation and nerve function can help detect any changes or progression of foot complications.
What to Avoid if You Have Diabetes
- Soaking your feet
- Walking barefoot
- Cutting dead skin and removing corns and calluses
- Wearing shoes that do not fit correctly and are too tight in the toes
If you notice any signs of a problem or abnormalities in your feet, consult with a podiatrist as soon as possible. Treating problems in their earliest stages can help prevent more serious issues from developing.
Contact Our Grapevine Diabetic Foot Care Podiatrist for Help With Diabetes and Feet
If you have pain in your feet or ankles, it can negatively impact your life and interfere with your daily routine. You need a compassionate, skilled podiatrist to work with you to determine the cause and provide treatment based on your specific needs. With 30 years of experience, the podiatrists at Alliance Foot & Ankle Specialists understand the relationship between your feet and your overall health. Whether your condition requires therapy, orthotics, or surgery, we offer leading-edge medical care to address your unique situation.
Our Grapevine diabetic foot care podiatrist offers patients in the Dallas-Fort Worth area safe, effective, and affordable treatment plans. If you’re struggling with a foot or an ankle problem, call us today at 817-481-4000, or fill out our contact form to make an appointment.