Diabetes can impact the body in a number of ways, especially creating potentially serious complications for your feet.
“Foot care is a central component of overall diabetes care,” says Bryce Paschold, DPM, FACFAS, a board-certified foot and ankle surgeon and a fellow member of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. “Without precautions, even small foot problems can lead to amputation or be life-threatening.”
To help those living with diabetes understand potential complications and how to avoid them, ACFAS is sharing these important insights:
Nerve damage that affects arms, hands, legs and feet known as diabetic peripheral neuropathy not only makes you more likely to experience numbness, burning, and loss of your protective sensation, but losing sensation in your feet can also make it easier to miss common minor skin pathologies and other foot issues while they’re still relatively easy to treat.
With diabetes, the blood vessels below the knee often become narrow and restrict blood flow, causing infections that don’t heal. This common and serious complication can lead to the loss of your foot, leg or your life.
Stress fractures and sprains are commonplace among all athletes, but those living with diabetes who experience neuropathy are more likely to be unaware of foot and ankle injuries and exacerbate them by continuing their activities.
While still relatively rare, Charcot foot seems to be growing in prevalence as more Americans develop diabetes. This sudden destruction and erosion of the foot’s bones, caused by severe nerve damage, can trigger an avalanche of problems, including joint loss, fractures, collapse of the arch, massive deformity, ulcers, amputation and even death. Symptoms appear suddenly and include warm and red skin, and swelling, but commonly without pain.
You can play a vital role in reducing your risk for complications. Here’s how:
• Inspect feet daily. Check for cuts, blisters, redness, swelling and nail problems. Use a magnifying mirror to look at the bottom of your feet. If you need assistance, have someone else do it for you. Be proactive by knowing what is going on with your feet on a daily basis.
• Don’t ignore pain. Seek care immediately if you experience pain in your leg at night or with little activity. It could mean you have a blocked artery.
• Don’t perform “bathroom surgery.” Never trim calluses or corns yourself, and don’t use over-the-counter medicated pads. See a foot and ankle surgeon for proper treatment.
• Keep floors clear. To prevent injury, make sure no needles, insulin syringes or other sharp objects are on the floor. You should also always wear shoes, indoors and outdoors.
• Prevent Irritation. Shake shoes free of small objects you may not be able to feel and ensure your socks aren’t bunched up. Wear lighter colored socks so you’ll notice blood or drainage if they occur.
• Be temperature aware. Never use heating pads, hot water bottles, ice or electric blankets, and never put your feet in hot water without testing the temperature; you can easily burn your feet without noticing.
• Stay active. Improve circulation by wiggling your toes and moving your ankles for five minutes, two to three times a day.
• Control blood sugar levels. Good diabetes management reduces your risk of developing complications.
• Book an appointment. Visit a foot and ankle surgeon to determine if you have lost any feeling or circulation. Periodic foot exams can also help prevent complications. “Advanced therapies for foot wounds, such as the use of bioengineered skin substitutes and negative pressure wound therapy, are saving limbs and restoring mobility for people who suffer from nonhealing foot ulcers,” says Dr. Paschold.
For more information and to find a foot and ankle surgeon near you, visit FootHealthFacts.org, the patient education website for the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.
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