Diabetes and Foot Health: Understanding the Connection


November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, observed to help build awareness and support for millions worldwide affected by this chronic disease. In America alone, over 37 million people, youth and adults, live with the disease and its devastating consequences.

At 26 Foot and Ankle, we take part by shedding light on this health condition, especially how diabetes affects foot health.

Read on to understand the connection between diabetes and foot health.

What is diabetes

As defined by the World Health Organization, “Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces.” Insulin is an essential hormone that helps your body turn food into energy and control blood sugar levels.

When your body has excess sugar in your blood, this can lead to serious health problems, affecting almost every part of your body, including your feet.

How does diabetes affect your feet

Diabetes can lead to nerve damage over time if left untreated, and the most affected part of your body is your feet and legs. Nerve damage can cause you to experience numbness, tingling, or pain, and in some cases, you may even lose sensation in your feet.

While that can sound quite good, the inability to feel pain can actually increase the likelihood of cuts and sores without you even realizing it. Losing sensation in your feet can make it difficult for you to detect foreign objects inside your socks or shoes, resulting in skin wounds that may become infected and lead to further health problems, such as gangrene.

When the nerves on your feet are damaged, it can affect the blood flow, leading to slower wound healing. In some cases, the affected body part may lose its blood supply, causing the tissues to die. When this happens, the skin around your wound will turn blue or black, along with pain, numbness, and a foul-smelling discharge.

Gangrene is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. When it becomes severe, amputation may be necessary to prevent the infection from spreading to healthy surrounding tissues.

Another foot condition that can result from nerve damage is Charcot’s foot, or when the joints and soft tissues of your foot become impacted leading to swelling and an abnormal foot shape. This condition can become severe, making walking extremely painful, and even simply standing up difficult, due to the deformity.

Ways to keep your feet healthy with diabetes

It is crucial to take good care of your feet to prevent infections and avoid the risk of losing a toe, foot, or leg. Consulting a reliable foot doctor or podiatrist in your area can help you receive the appropriate care for your feet. They can assist you in creating a self-care routine that you can easily follow at home to maintain healthy feet.

These tips below are also helpful for preventing foot problems when you have diabetes.

  • Keep your feet clean by washing them with mild soap and thoroughly drying them afterward. Be sure only to pat your skin when drying and avoid rubbing to prevent wounds.
  • Trim your toenails regularly, or have someone do it for you, to prevent ingrown nails.
  • Check your feet regularly for blisters, cuts, bruises, redness, and other sores to have them treated immediately to prevent infections.
  • Wear well-fitting footwear to protect your feet from injury and wounds.
  • Keep the blood flowing in your feet by doing simple foot exercises, like wiggling your toes and moving your feet in circles while sitting down. Walking is also an excellent way of stimulating blood flow to your legs and feet.

If you or your loved one has diabetes, it’s crucial to take extra care and attention to your feet every day. Be sure to inform your healthcare provider right away of any problems to receive early treatment and prevent serious complications that may lead to hospitalization and even amputation.

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