How does diabetes affect the feet and what can be done about it?
More than one million people in Australia have been diagnosed with diabetes, making it one of the most serious threats to the health of the country. When most people think of diabetes and its consequences, their minds will wander to things like high blood pressure and heart disease. And while these negative consequences of diabetes are certainly a reality, people might not realise that suffering from diabetes can also lead to problems in other areas – even in the feet.
How can diabetes affect the feet?
An uncontrolled glucose level that is associated with diabetes can lead to nerve damage in the feet and elsewhere. When there is nerve damage, symptoms can include coldness, numbness, tingling, pins and needles, and burning pains in the feet. This warped sense of sensation is dangerous because it can mean that when too much pressure is applied to the feet or the feet should be experiencing pain, the diabetic won't sense this but instead will be feeling the numbness or tingling because of nerve damage. When a person doesn't detect something like a bruise or a cut on their feet and they continue to apply pressure to it, this can lead to more serious conditions such as foot ulcers, and this sometimes has to be treated with amputation.
An unbalanced glucose level can also lead to a lack of blood circulating to the feet. Again, this can lead to abnormal sensations such as coldness, but also sharp leg cramps, pain in the feet even when resting, feet turning a purple colour, and cuts healing slowly.
What can diabetics do to look after their feet?
With some knowledge about their condition and by paying additional attention to their feet, diabetics can reduce the risk of complications with their feet. The best way of doing this is by checking the feet every day, and these are the things that you should be looking out for.
Cuts and scrapes.
Any cuts and scrapes that are noticed should be treated straight away to prevent infection, and you should be aware of the amount of pressure you are applying to the area with the cut so that there are no further complications. To treat a cut, simply wash it with a mild soap and water solution and apply an antibacterial cream to it.
If you notice any purple or blue tones in your feet, you should call a doctor immediately as this could mean that you have serious problems with blood circulation in your feet.
Redness, warmth, or swelling.
These are all signs of potential infection and inflammation, which will need to be treated by a doctor or a podiatrist.
Blisters can occur when a person wears shoes that are ill fitting, and so it is important to have your feet measured to ensure that you are wearing shoes that fit you properly. Do not break the blister as this can lead to infection, but do clean it and apply an antibacterial cream, keeping an eye on the blister each day to make sure it is not getting any worse.
Corns should be worked down each day in the shower with a pumice stone, but don't try to remove the corn all at once as breaking the corn could lead to infection.
As well as performing daily checks, it is also important that diabetics schedule a regular appointment (ideally every three months) with a podiatrist, as they will be able to apply an objective, expert eye and pick up on foot problems that you might not notice yourself. A podiatrist should also be contacted immediately if you notice anything irregular about your feet that you don't know how to treat yourself.