One of the dangers of diabetes is its ability to damage nerves and blood vessels. This damage causes a wide variety of health issues, affecting your vision, foot problems and your body’s ability to heal.
Many diabetes patients experience numerous problems in their extremities, especially the feet, due to nerve and blood vessel damage. Patients sometimes lose feeling, or experience reduced feeling, in their feet. They may not notice injuries or other trauma, such as extreme temperatures. Damaged blood vessels also cause your body to heal more slowly, further increasing your risk of infection.
The Early Warning Signs of Foot Problems
Our bodies are amazing. They do their best to warn us when health problems arise, using a variety of communication methods. If you experience any of the following symptoms of foot problems, schedule an appointment with your physician immediately.
- A limp or difficulty walking
- Changes to the color or shape of your feet
- Fever or chills associated with a wound
- Hard, shiny skin on your legs
- Localized warmth on the feet or legs
- Lost or reduced ability to feel heat or cold, or even to recognize touch
- New and/or persistent numbness in the feet and/or legs
- Pain in the legs or buttocks when walking that improves with rest
- Persistent burning or tingling sensation in your feet
- Persistent pain
- Pus or bloody discharge from a wound
- Redness streaking or spreading outward from a wound
- Swelling of the feet or legs (a sign of infection, inflammation, or poor circulation)
- The hair on your feet, toes, and/or lower legs ceases to grow
- Your feet have blisters, red spots, infected corns, ingrown toenails, sores, or ulcers
- Your toenails become thick and yellow
One of the reasons these symptoms present so much danger to diabetics is the patient’s loss of sensation. A wound that seems fairly minor, such as a cut, becomes dangerous when you do not realize it occurred, so you do not properly care for it (cleaning, disinfecting, and dressing it). What’s more, when the wound site fails to receive an adequate blood supply, it takes longer to heal. Most of the above signs are symptoms of possible infection.
Lowering Your Risk for Foot Problems
An increased danger of foot problems does not mean you have to experience them; you can take steps to lower your risk. Incorporate some healthy habits, dump some bad ones, and pay special attention to what you put on your feet.
First, check your feet every day, including the tops and bottoms, sides, and even the areas between your toes. If you cannot reach or see your feet, ask someone for help. You can also use a mirror. If you notice any injuries, such as cuts, bruises, blisters, or sores, contact your doctor.
When washing your feet, use warm water (not hot) and mild soap, checking the water temperature with your fingers or elbow. Afterward, pat your feet dry, including the area between your toes, and dry them thoroughly. Moisture breeds infection.
You may moisturize your feet, but do not put lotion between your toes, and do not use antiseptic solutions on your feet unless instructed to by your physician.
Wear shoes and socks at all times, to protect yourself from injury and protect your feet from extreme temperatures. This includes not using an electric blanket, heating pad, or hot water bottle on your feet.
Reduced sensation increases your odds of accidental injury, so do not attempt to remove calluses, corns, or warts on your own. Instead, visit your doctor or podiatrist.
To improve poor circulation, do not sit with legs crossed, and do not stand in one position for too long. Get up and move around every 30 minutes or so.
Finally, if you smoke, stop. Smoking damages blood vessels even in non-diabetics. Again, damaged blood vessels cause slow healing time and increased risk of infection. Please, stop smoking.
Choosing the Right Socks and Shoes
Protect your feet by always wearing shoes, even inside your home. Of course, ill-fitting shoes cause blisters and other sores, so the type of shoes you wear is very important.
First, shoes should fit correctly and feel comfortable the first time you put them on. If your mother always assured you that you’d “grow into them” or that you’d “break them in,” please know that she meant well, she was just wrong.
However, when you buy a new pair of shoes, even comfortable well-fitting ones, they do require a short breaking-in period. Wear them around the house for an hour or two each day for a week or so and you’ll be fine.
Only wear your shoes for around five hours at a time if possible, to change the pressure points on your feet. Your doctor may also be able to recommend shoes made specifically for diabetics, which are generally roomier and guard against sores and blisters.
Before putting on those shoes, put on clean, dry socks, preferably ones without seams. Never wear stockings with seams, though you may wear non-binding pantyhose. If your socks or stockings have holes, throw them out. Believe it or not, they put pressure on your toes and cause damage. You may want socks with extra padding, or that wick away moisture. Both are fine; just make sure that these are the socks you wear when trying on your new shoes. Otherwise, those shoes that fit fine in the store will be too tight.
Your Feet and Your Yearly Wellness Exam
During your yearly wellness exam, have your doctor examine your feet. This needs to happen more often if you have a history of foot problems. Make a note of any foot problems so you remember to share them with your physician. You may also want a referral to a podiatrist, especially if your medical history includes foot problems.