To wrap up November and the month of diabetes awareness, I am going to share why foot care is so important for people with diabetes.
About half of all people with diabetes have some kind of diabetic neuropathy external icon (nerve damage). You can have nerve damage in any part of your body, but nerves in your feet and legs are most often affected. Nerve damage can cause you to lose feeling in your feet.
Anyone with diabetes can develop nerve damage, but these factors increase your risk:
- Blood sugar levels that are hard to manage
- Having diabetes for a long time, especially if your blood sugar is often higher than your target levels
- Being overweight
- Being older than 40 years
- Having high blood pressure
- Having high cholesterol
Nerve damage, along with poor blood flow—another diabetes complication—puts you at risk for developing a foot ulcer (a sore or wound) that could get infected and not heal well. If an infection doesn’t get better with treatment, your toe, foot, or part of your leg may need to be amputated (removed by surgery) to prevent the infection from spreading and to save your life.
Feeling No Pain
Some people with nerve damage have numbness, tingling, or pain, but others have no symptoms. Nerve damage can also lower your ability to feel pain, heat, or cold.
Here is what you should do to take care of your feet:
- Check your feet every day for cuts, redness, swelling, sores, blisters, corns, calluses, or any other change to the skin or nails. Use a mirror if you can’t see the bottom of your feet or ask a family member to help.
- Wash your feet every day in warm (not hot) water. Don’t soak your feet. Dry your feet completely and apply lotion to the top and bottom—but not between your toes, which could lead to infection.
- Never go barefoot. Always wear shoes and socks or slippers, even inside, to avoid injury. Check that there aren’t any pebbles or other objects inside your shoes and that the lining is smooth.
- Wear shoes that fit well. For the best fit, try on new shoes at the end of the day when your feet tend to be largest. Break in your new shoes slowly—wear them for an hour or two a day at first, until they’re completely comfortable. Always wear socks with your shoes.
- Trim your toenails straight across and gently smooth any sharp edges with a nail file. Have your foot doctor (podiatrist) trim your toenails if you can’t see or reach your feet.
- Don’t remove corns or calluses yourself, and especially don’t use over-the-counter products to remove them—they could burn your skin.
- Get your feet checked at every health care visit. Also, visit your foot doctor every year (more often if you have nerve damage) for a complete exam, which will include checking for feeling and blood flow in your feet.
- Keep the blood flowing. Put your feet up when you’re sitting and wiggle your toes for a few minutes several times throughout the day.
- Choose feet-friendly activities like walking, riding a bike, or swimming. Check with your doctor about which activities are best for you and any you should avoid.
Be sure to ask your doctor what else you can do to keep your feet healthy.
When you check your feet every day, you can catch problems early and get them treated right away. Early treatment greatly reduces your risk of amputation.
Managing your diabetes and maintaining a healthy lifestyle helps keep your feet healthy. This should include:
- Regular medical exams, including foot checks at every visit and checking your ABCs (A1c, blood pressure, and cholesterol)
- Monitoring your blood sugar daily
- Regular exercise
- Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables
You can help prevent serious foot problems by following a good foot care regimen.
It’s important to recognize early warning signs of foot problems, such as:
- Burning, tingling, or painful feet
- Loss of sensation to heat, cold, or touch
- Changes to the colour or shape of your feet
- Loss of hair on the toes, feet, and lower legs
- Thickening and yellowing of the toenails
- Onset of red spots, blisters, sores, ulcers, infected corns, or ingrown toenails
If you have any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately. Delaying may result in serious health complications. I hope this was helpful and that you now understand why proper foot care is so important, especially in people with diabetes.
It is the uncontrolled blood sugar levels that can lead to this. So again, please do all you can to manage your blood sugar levels in order to prevent these sorts of potential complications.