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Foot health and diabetes

It’s not uncommon for foot complications to develop from diabetes. In fact, nearly half of those with diabetes will experience some form of nerve damage (neuropathy), most often affecting the legs and feet. Neuropathy can cause discomfort and loss of feeling in the toes, feet, and lower legs, sometimes resulting in serious injury or infection.

Understanding your level of risk

If you are living with diabetes, there are certain risk factors that can increase your chances of foot problems, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Difficulty managing weight
  • Smoking
  • High blood glucose levels
  • Over the age of 40 years

Though nerve damage can happen to anyone with diabetes, those who have had it for many years are more vulnerable. To help prevent neuropathy, get at least 10 to 20 minutes of exercise every day and follow a healthy meal plan.1 Check your feet daily and get early treatment as soon as you notice a problem. Early treatment reduces the risk of more serious foot problems developing. Taking a proactive approach now can help you avoid health complications later in life.

two people walking

Potential foot problems

Beyond tingling sensations, pain, and numbness, diabetes can affect the feet in other ways. You may experience any of the following:

  • Frequent calluses: Those with diabetes are more prone to foot calluses. Left untreated, these calluses can break down and form into open sores.
  • Foot ulcers: An ulcer, or open sore, is most likely to occur on the bottom of your big toe or the balls of your feet. In serious cases, ulcers can cause infection, sometimes going as deep as the bone.
  • Changes in the skin: Diabetes can cause your feet to become dry, leading to cracking and peeling. Keeping your feet moisturized is a good way to avoid this problem.
  • Poor circulation: When diabetes damages your blood vessels, it can lead to poor blood flow in your feet. This can make healing from scrapes or cuts difficult, putting you at an increased risk for infection.
  • Painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN): Painful DPN is a neurological disorder that may start as an uncomfortable numbness in the feet and can progress into a burning or stabbing pain that spreads into the legs. Treatment options include creams/ointments, medication, diet and exercise, and spinal cord stimulation.

In extreme cases, people with diabetes may need to undergo amputation2. When foot ulcers or infections become severe, the removal of the toe, foot, or leg can be necessary. Proper foot care is critical to avoiding such serious problems.

Staying on your own two feet

The good news is there are simple steps that you can take to keep your feet healthy. Make sure to do the following:

  • Wash your feet with warm water every day
  • Always dry your feet quickly (avoid soaking them) and remember to moisturize
  • Wear socks
  • Trim your toenails
  • Make sure your shoes fit well
  • Stay active

Have your physician or care team check your feet during each visit. They can diagnose any serious problems and remove potentially dangerous calluses or corns. If you suspect that you have problems with your legs or feet, or if you experience pain or numbness, contact your doctor right away. Staying on top of your condition can help you avoid major health problems.

1. Diabetes and Your Feet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Page. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/healthy-feet.html. Accessed 31AUG2021
2. Foot Complications. The American Diabetes Association Page. https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/complications/foot-complications. Accessed 31AUG2021

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