Foot complications from diabetes can often lead to more serious health issues and infection if not addressed early. Diabetic neuropathy, or diabetic nerve damage is the most common complication. This condition is caused by rising blood sugar levels that harm delicate nerve tissue. Those who have had diabetes for a long time are more susceptible to develop neuropathy, as well as those who are not effectively managing their weight or maintaining proper blood sugar levels.
Peripheral neuropathy, in particular, is nerve damage that affects the feet and legs. Symptoms include tingling, numbness, burning and pain.
Another diabetic foot complication is peripheral artery disease (PAD), which is a hardening of the arteries that results in decreased oxygen levels getting delivered to the lower legs and feet, as well as your heart and brain. PAD can often be treated through adopting a healthier lifestyle, including exercise, a healthy diet and eliminating tobacco use.
Common Diabetic Foot Complications
Although anyone is susceptible to the foot problems listed below, those with diabetes are more at risk for serious complications from infection. Some of the most common diabetic foot complications include:
- Athlete’s foot and fungal infections. Germs can enter cracks in the skin and cause fungal infections like Athlete’s foot, which results in itchy, dry and red feet or thick, brittle, discolored toenails.
- Calluses, corns and blisters. Due to an uneven gait or ill-fitting shoes, issues such as calluses or corns, which are a build-up of hard skin on the foot or between the toes, or blisters can form.
- Bunions and hammertoes. Toe issues such as bunions, when your big toe angles in towards the rest of the toes resulting in the joint becoming pronounced and inflamed, or hammertoes, a bent toe due to weakened muscles are also common due to diabetic neuropathy.
- Serious and life-threatening conditions, such as gangrene and sepsis. Because diabetes can lower the amount of blood flow to your feet, more serious complications could occur. When not enough blood flows to the feet, a wound may not heal as quickly or the inflamed area could become susceptible to infection. Wounds that are slow to heal could lead to gangrene, the deterioration and death of body tissue due to a lack of blood flow or a bacterial infection. If left untreated, it could lead to sepsis, a life-threatening condition where infection spreads to the bloodstream and could damage and shut down multiple organ systems, ultimately causing death.
Diabetic Foot Care Tips
Proper diabetic foot care can prevent the risk for these complications before they become serious and affect your quality of life. A few tips to ensure you’re taking good care of your feet when you have diabetes include:
- Examine your feet often. Check your feet every day for sores, blisters, calluses or any of the other conditions mentioned above. Make sure to properly treat these issues if you notice them.
- Wear the proper shoes and socks. Avoid ill-fitting shoes, sandals and flip-flops and instead choose thick-soled, comfortable shoes made of canvas or leather. Choose socks that fit well and do not slide down or bunch up around the toes. Also, never go barefoot, even around the home.
- Check your shoes before putting them on. Inspect shoes for any foreign objects that could hurt your feet before putting them on.
- Test water temperatures before washing. Nerve damage from diabetes means you may not be able to judge how hot or cold the water in your tub is before stepping in. Test the water with your hand or elbow first. Also, do not soak your feet for long periods of time, and make sure to thoroughly dry them off after bathing.
- Keep skin moisturized. If the skin on your feet seems dry, use a good moisturizer to keep it properly lubricated. However, avoid putting lotion between your toes.
- Get the blood flowing to your feet regularly. When you’re relaxing, make sure to keep the blood to your feet flowing by elevating them for a while when sitting, wiggling your toes and rolling your ankles occasionally.
- Live a healthy lifestyle. Your lifestyle has a major impact on your diabetes management. Make healthy food choices, exercise often and quit unhealthy habits such as smoking and excessive drinking.
- Visit your doctor often. Schedule regular appointments with your physician to get your feet examined by a professional. If you have any diabetic foot complications that won’t seem to heal, or seem to be getting worse, contact your doctor for treatment right away.