Our feet certainly work hard for us, but are often one of the most neglected parts of our bodies. With almost 26 million Americans living with diabetes, it is important to know how this disease can cause serious problems in the feet.1
High levels of glucose in the blood can damage the feet
There are two ways that high glucose in the blood from diabetes can cause damage to the feet. The first problem is nerve damage, also called diabetic neuropathy. Damaged nerves can make it difficult to feel pain, heat, cold, or even touch. This can lead to sores, cuts, and wounds. Germs are fed by high glucose levels, causing infection.2
The second problem from high glucose in the blood is poor blood flow to the extremities. If blood can’t circulate properly in the feet and legs, the infections from sores and open wounds will have trouble healing. If sores and wounds are not able to heal properly, gangrene can develop. Gangrene involves decay and death of skin tissue, resulting in blackening of the skin and an unpleasant odor. If gangrene is left untreated, complications can result, including scarring, the need for reconstructive surgery, amputation, or even infections that can spread throughout the body to other organs, which may ultimately be fatal.1
Signs and symptoms
The following are some common symptoms of foot problems that people with diabetes may experience3:
- Tingling, burning, or pain in feet
- Unable to feel touch, heat, or cold in feet
- Changes in shape of foot
- Changes in color or temperature of feet
- Hair loss on toes, feet, or lower legs
- Dry or cracked skin on feet
- Thick and yellow toenails
- Fungal infections between toes
- Blisters, sores, ulcers, infected corns, or ingrown toenails
Tips for Healthy Feet
National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers a guide called Take Care of Your Feet for a Lifetime available in both English and Spanish. Here are some additional tips to follow4:
- Have your feet checked at least four times a year by your healthcare provider and go immediately if you notice anything of concern.
-Wash your feet daily in warm, not hot water. Follow with a moisturizer on the tops and bottoms of feet, but not in between the toes, as this could cause a fungal infection.
- Visually inspect feet daily, including between the toes for blisters, cracks, and scratches.
- Don’t walk barefoot. Wear comfortable shoes that protect your feet.
- Avoid crossing your legs to prevent circulatory issues.
- Consult with your healthcare provider about an exercise plan.
- Cut toenails straight across without trimming them too short to avoid ingrown toenails.
Additionally, if you or a loved one is having difficulties performing daily personal tasks, such as meeting grooming and hygiene needs, CareFocus Companion Services offers Personal Care Services to assist you. Contact a CareFocus Companion Services office near you for more information.
Additional Resources for Diabetes
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse
1 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892–3560
National Diabetes Education Program
1 Diabetes Way
Bethesda, MD 20892–3560
American Diabetes Association
1701 North Beauregard Street
Alexandria, VA 22311
Phone: 1–800–DIABETES (342–2383)
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International120 Wall Street
New York, NY 10005–4001
Phone: 1–800–533–CURE (2873)
1 CDC http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2011/p0126_diabetes.html
2 NDIC, NIH http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/complications_feet/
3 CDC http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/tcyd/foot.htm
4 ADA http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/foot-care.html