Take steps to prevent diabetic foot problems
In addition to blood sugar and insulin levels, diabetics need to monitor the health of their legs and feet.
“Three major problems for diabetics are infection, ulceration (open sores or cuts) and peripheral vascular disease (reduced blood flow to the legs and feet),” explained Collin Pehde, D.P.M., FACFAS, assistant professor of podiatric medicine at Des Moines University.
Because diabetes can impair the nervous system, a diabetic may not be able to accurately feel his feet the way a non-diabetic could. He may also not have normal sweat and oil production in the feet or proper blood circulation. Diabetes also can affect the immune system, making a person more prone to infection. These risks mean a diabetic should be alert to potential podiatric problems.
Dr. Pehde said the following could be signs of a problem with the foot or ankle:
- Changes in skin color
red – can indicate infection
dark, black tissue – can indicate loss of blood flow and tissue death (gangrene)
blue toe – can indicate a blood clot has moved to the toe and is blocking blood flow
- Drainage that has a foul odor could be an indicator of infection
- Swelling in the foot can be a sign of infection or fractures. Fractures in a diabetic foot can lead to a serious condition known as Charcot deformity. Swelling should be addressed immediately.
- Ingrown toenails may be a source of infection.
To prevent problems, diabetics should be proactive and inspect their feet daily for blisters, bleeding, swelling, drainage or open sores. They should also thoroughly wash and dry their feet each day before applying moisturizing lotion. Diabetics should avoid exposing their feet to temperature extremes. Foot soaking should be done in lukewarm water. Acid or chemical corn removers should not be used.
Shoes that do not fit properly can lead to sore spots, corns, blisters, calluses or pain. Because these problems can worsen quickly in a diabetic, it is best to have your foot measured and shoes fitted by a professional, called a pedorthist.
Ultimately, one of the best methods of prevention is to have regular checkups with a physician.
“A person with diabetes should be seen regularly, every three months. The doctor can inspect feet for toenail problems, calluses, infections, vascular problems, Charcot deformity and foot numbness, known as neuropathy,” explained Dr. Pehde. “If any of these problems are discovered, either by self-inspection or regular clinic checkup, the person should see a foot and ankle specialist immediately.”
The good news about diabetic foot problems is that the majority are preventable. Big problems usually start as small problems that are easily managed.
“The bottom line is, if you are diabetic and have any questions about a possible foot problem, it is much better to be examined sooner rather than later,” he added.
Read about common foot problems, podiatric medicine or the physicians in Des Moines University’s Foot & Ankle Institute.