Diabetes can have an impact on the nerves and blood vessels in the feet, which can lead to numbness or make it hard to heal injuries and resist infections. On top of that, it can make it hard to sense pain in your feet, so you could have a cut and never even know it.
According to the American Diabetes Association, foot problems most often happen when there is nerve damage (called: diabetic neuropathy). A person might experience this as a tingling pain or a weakness in the foot.
However, it can cause a loss of feeling in the foot, too, which is why it’s possible to receive an injury of some kind without realizing it until much later.
In any of these cases, those injuries might not be dealt with until an infection has set in.
Before we go too far down this road, though, let’s be clear about one thing: there is something you can do about it!
Is It True that Diabetes Leads to Foot Amputation?
Many people with diabetes are faced with peripheral arterial disease (PAD). This condition can reduce the blood flow to the feet, and is generally the root cause of nerve damage and reduced sensation there.
When you put all these things together, it can lead to ulcers and infections in the feet. If those conditions are not addressed immediately, it may require amputation as a last resort.
What Are Diabetic Foot Ulcers?
Diabetes can increase the risk of foot sores, which are also called diabetic ulcers. These are often painless, so it’s easy to miss them until it’s too late, but they are one of the more common reasons for diabetes patients to end up with a hospital stay.
These ulcers are sometimes caused by too much pressure on your feet and could take weeks or even months to fully heal. This is why you may be asked to use special shoes, braces, or casts to help take the pressure off your feet and speed the healing process.
What Can You Do?
There are several things you can do to protect your feet from these dire consequences.
- Inspect your feet every day – As sensation goes down, you’ll need to rely on a visual inspection to catch cuts, swelling, redness, and more. Be sure to check for dry or cracked skin, ingrown toenails, corns, and calluses.
- Stop smoking – Smoking impacts the small blood vessels in your body, decreasing the blood flow to your feet even more. This makes wounds and damage heal more slowly.
- Protect your feet – Don’t leave your feet exposed, not even at home. Wear socks, shoes, or slippers to avoid cuts and bruises.
- Get your blood flowing – Elevate your feet whenever you can, and actively wiggle your toes.
- Get them checked regularly – Have your foot and ankle doctor look at your feet to make sure there aren’t any complications.
- Go easy on your feet – You should carefully wash your feet in lukewarm water every day. Don’t scald them in hot water. Use a soft washcloth and pat them dry with a nice, soft towel. (Always being sure to get between the toes.)
- Prevent cracking – Use lotion to prevent cracking on your feet, but don’t put any between your toes, since that could contribute to fungal infections.
- Choose the best shoes – You are going to have to prioritize comfort over style. Your shoes should have closed toes and heels to protect your feet from damage. Choose a style that has smooth and soft insides and a strong outer sole.
- Trim your toenails carefully – Soak your feet first to soften up the toenails, and then cut them straight across to help avoid ingrown toenails. File them down to ensure they don’t press against (and cut) the neighboring toes.
When Is It Bad Enough to Call the Doctor?
In many cases, patients decide not to consult with their foot and ankle doctor because they simply don’t believe their injury is worth the trouble. They simply don’t believe that “such a small problem” warrants a doctor’s appointment.
However, even small sores and blisters can turn into a real problem if they’re given a chance. They can become infected or otherwise fail to heal properly.
So, when should you make an appointment to get your feet checked? If you have diabetes, it’s worth checking in if you notice:
- Sores or wounds on your feet
- Calluses, corns, or bunions
- Open sores that take too long to heal
- Changes in skin color or temperature
- Dry and cracking skin around the heel
- Swelling in the foot or ankle
- Increasing numbness, tingling, or pain
- Unexplained redness
While the risk of foot problems does increase with diabetes, that doesn’t mean you’re powerless against it. If you stay vigilant, doing everything you can to protect your feet, you can prevent most of the serious foot problems related to diabetes.