Diabetes is a full-body problem, causing much more than elevated sugar levels in the blood. 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.
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, 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.
How Can Diabetes Affect My Feet?
If your diabetes is not controlled through lifestyle modifications, injected insulin, or other medications, you can develop a condition called diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage). About half of all people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy.
Peripheral neuropathy affects your feet. Peripheral neuropathy can cause tingling or burning sensations in your feet or even make them feel numb. When your feet are numb, you can injure them severely without even noticing.
Another diabetes-related condition that can affect your feet is called diabetic dermopathy. This benign condition looks like dark scars on your skin. You could also develop a rare condition called Charcot foot, which is a type of arthritis that can cause fractures and deformities.
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.