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Diabetes and how it affects feet

August 13, 2017

If you have diabetes, you have probably noticed that it affects your health in many ways. But it can be easy to overlook one spot that often escapes close attention: your feet.

Understand the problem

Just a small foot sore can lead to a diabetic ulcer and even amputation if not treated properly and in a timely manner. So if you have diabetes, every cut or sore should be taken seriously.

“Diabetes can lead to pressure or small blood vessel disease in your feet, causing nerve damage and circulation problems,” says Baker Machhadieh, MD, with Kettering Physician Network Endocrinology and Diabetes in Hamilton. “A loss of feeling — often in the feet or legs — means minor injuries can go unnoticed, allowing infection to set in.”

A diabetic foot ulcer can occur almost anywhere on the foot. But very often they appear on the ball, the bottom of the big toe, or the top or sides of the foot. It can be caused by ill-fitting shoes pressing or rubbing against the skin, or it can be triggered by an injury.

The good news is most diabetic ulcers and foot sores are preventable.

Practice prevention

Dr. Machhadieh says the first line of defense against ulcers and other foot problems is controlling your blood sugar levels and keeping your feet clean and well cared for. Here are other steps you can take:

• Wash your feet daily with mild soap in warm — not hot — water.

• Don’t let your feet dry out and crack.

• Rub lotion on your feet daily but not between your toes.

• Wear shoes that fit well but are not too snug.

• Wear cotton socks, and change them every day.

• Never go barefoot, not even at home.

• Ask your healthcare provider to check your feet at every visit—or at least once a year.

• Don’t smoke. It reduces blood flow to your feet and slows healing.

Inspect

Make a habit of checking your feet, including between your toes, every day. “If possible, check once in the morning and once at night before you go to bed to catch changes as soon as they happen,” advises Dr. Machhadieh.

Here are a few things to look and feel for:

• Redness, bruises, or changes of color

• Cuts, blisters or scabs

• Swelling or other signs of damage

• Bumps or irregular skin textures

• Dry, rough or cracked skin

• Brittle, cracked, discolored, or ingrown nails.

Be sure to keep a list of your observations. If you find a wound, treat it and cover it with a bandage immediately. Be sure to check it with each foot inspection to make sure it is healing. If the wound does not heal or you begin to develop an open wound, get medical help immediately.

For more information about wound treatment and diabetic foot ulcers, visit ketteringhealth.org/wound