Diabetes is a full-body problem. While the primary result of diabetes is elevated sugar levels in the blood, the condition can cause a wide-ranging number of health issues that anyone with the condition should be aware of. For example, if you notice that your feet or toes are numb, tingling, ulcerated, deformed, or discolored, or if you have trouble walking, you may be one of the millions of Americans who is suffering from diabetic feet and doesn’t even know it. In fact, many people first discover they have diabetes when dealing with foot and leg issues.
At Alliance Foot & Ankle Specialists, we are dedicated to helping our patients with diabetes maintain healthy feet and a high quality of life, both through preventative care and proper treatment and diagnosis. Caring properly for your feet throughout your diabetes journey can help you stay active, healthy, and mobile for decades.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, is a chronic disease that prevents your body from efficiently converting the food you eat into energy. Typically, your body uses a hormone called insulin to direct the sugar you eat out of the bloodstream and into your body’s cells. The cells then burn the sugar as fuel. If your pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or if your body can’t use insulin efficiently, the sugar circulating in your blood increases to unhealthy levels causing a condition known as hyperglycemia.
There are two types of diabetes. In Type I, your immune system attacks the pancreatic islet cells that produce insulin. In Type II, the most common type, your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin. About 40 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with diabetes, and approximately 25% don't know that they have the disease.
How Diabetes Affects the Feet
If your diabetes is not properly controlled through lifestyle modifications, injected insulin, or other medications, you can develop a number of different conditions that affect your legs and feet. Some of these conditions can require immediate attention by a Texas podiatrist who will diagnose the problem and start a personalized treatment plan specific to your unique needs. Common diabetic foot conditions include:
Diabetic Neuropathy/Peripheral Neuropathy
About half of all people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy—a form of nerve damage. Peripheral neuropathy can affect your feet and cause a tingling or burning sensation or even make them feel numb. When your feet are numb, you can suffer a severe injury without knowing it.
Another diabetes-related condition that can affect your feet is a skin condition called diabetic dermopathy. This benign condition, also called shin spots, looks like dark scars on the front of your legs.
High blood sugar levels can impair the body's ability to heal, making patients with diabetes more susceptible to developing foot ulcers, which can become serious if left untreated. Because many patients suffer numbness in their feet, it may take them longer to notice these dangerous ulcers.
You could also develop a rare condition called Charcot foot, which is a type of arthritis that can weaken your bones, causing fractures and deformities.
Reduced blood flow due to diabetes can result in poor blood circulation and the slow healing of wounds, as well as an increased risk of infections in the feet.
Infections and Wounds
Diabetic feet are more prone to wounds that won’t heal and infections due to compromised immune function. Even minor injuries or cuts can develop into severe infections.
Hammer Toes and Bunions
Diabetes may lead to changes in the structure of the foot, causing deformities such as hammer toes and bunions. These conditions can result in discomfort, pain, and difficulty wearing shoes.
Calluses and Corns
Elevated blood sugar levels may cause the skin to thicken, leading to the formation of calluses and corns on the feet. This can be problematic for diabetic patients who are at a higher risk of foot ulcers and infections.
Diabetes can result in dry skin on the feet, increasing the risk of cracks and fissures that may become entry points for infections. Again, numbness or loss of feeling in diabetic feet can cause the patient to develop an infection and not notice.
Peripheral Artery Disease
Diabetes also can lead to peripheral artery disease (PAD), which reduces the flow of blood to your legs and feet. If you don’t treat your diabetes and PAD, you could develop ulcers and infections that lead to gangrene and require amputation of your toes, feet, or legs.
Are You at Risk for Diabetic Feet or Related Foot Disorders?
Even if you have not been diagnosed with diabetes, you should immediately contact a podiatrist at Alliance Foot & Ankle Specialists if you experience symptoms such as:
- Tingling or a pins-and-needles sensation in your feet
- Sensitivity or pain in your feet
- A feeling that you’re wearing socks when you’re not
- Numb feet
- Weakness in your feet or legs
- Sensitivity to heat and cold
- Very cold or burning sensations in your feet
- Open sores or ulcers that don’t heal
When to See a Texas Diabetic Foot Doctor
If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, it’s important to schedule an appointment with our Texas podiatrist to discuss your condition and what it may mean to the health of your feet. See a podiatrist for:
- Preventative care. Your diabetes diagnosis means that you could face foot and leg issues down the road. Meeting with a podiatrist before health issues arise could be key to keeping your legs, feet, and toes healthy for years and decades to come.
- Acute care. If you develop symptoms in your feet and legs, such as numbness, tingling, or ulcers, it’s important to get them looked at right away. What could be a harmless, minor issue in another person could have serious consequences for a diabetic patient.
How a Texas Podiatrist Can Help You
At Alliance Foot & Ankle Specialists, we believe in more than just treating patients. We believe in establishing long-term working relationships with our patients, so we better understand their health histories and goals. These relationships make it easier to develop long-term treatment plans and to watch for possible developing problems—and they also make our job more rewarding.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Diabetic Foot Care
What should I expect at my diabetic foot appointment?
If you’ve scheduled an appointment with us to address diabetic foot problems, we will have you fill out a form about your health history, ask you about your diabetes journey, and then discuss the symptoms you’re experiencing. One of our podiatrists will then examine your feet, possibly order further testing, discuss the findings with you, and work with you to create a treatment plan.
What can I do to help prevent diabetic foot problems?
There are a number of things you can do to help prevent diabetic foot issues, including the following:
- Check your feet daily for wounds, ulcers, fissures, corns, or any other injuries or changes. Use a mirror to check the bottoms of your feet.
- Avoid going barefoot, and wear shoes that fit correctly.
- Encourage circulation by exercising, elevating your feet, and wearing compression socks.
- Make healthy lifestyle choices regarding diet, weight, exercise, and smoking.
Do some patients with diabetes really face toe, foot, and leg amputations?
Because PAD can cause poor blood circulation and loss of feeling in the feet, it’s possible for a wound or an ulcer to go unnoticed and become infected. If that infection leads to gangrene, parts of the damaged and infected foot and leg may need to be removed to stop the spread. Most people with well-managed diabetes who regularly care for their foot health can usually avoid these complications via preventative care and diabetic wound care.