People with diabetes have a tough time with many aspects of day-to-day life. The American Diabetes Association suggests managing blood sugar levels, eating a special diet, living a healthy and active lifestyle, and having regular doctor visits as ways to keep the glucose levels in your blood in check.
However, if not appropriately monitored by a medical professional, these blood sugar levels can cause serious complications to the person’s health over an extended period. Diabetic foot problems such as mobility issues, ulcers, tissue death, peripheral neuropathy can occur. And in some severe cases, a person may lose feeling in their legs and feet.
Let’s explore what to look for, tips to ease your pain, how to know when to see a foot doctor, and ways to get you back up on your feet.
What are Signs of Diabetic Feet?
Nerve damage (or diabetic neuropathy) occurs in nearly half of the people who suffer from diabetic foot problems. Most of the people who experience diabetic neuropathy symptoms experience nerve damage in their feet.
The feelings associated with nerve damage can range from a tingling sensation to numbness, the inability to feel hot or cold. In some cases, diabetic neuropathy results in sharp pains of the feet and legs, while others exhibit no symptoms at all.
Nerve damage, combined with poor blood flow, can cause foot problems like foot ulcers (a wound or sore on the foot) which can appear, become infected, and take a long time to heal. This type of diabetic neuropathy may spread the infection to the rest of your foot, leg, or other parts of the body resulting in the possible amputation of the diabetic foot.
Feeling pain is your body’s way of letting you know that something is wrong. Examining the pain or lack of feeling in the feet is your first step to determining whether it is nerve damage related to diabetic neuropathy, peripheral neuropathy, or some other underlying condition. And detecting diabetes is not easy to do, as many symptoms don’t show up right away.
Anyone can develop the foot problems that we’ve listed below. However, people with undiagnosed diabetes may suffer from untreated symptoms, leading to more severe health complications such as diabetic foot infections or amputations.
It is always best to see a healthcare practitioner who can provide medical advice for early treatment if you feel you may be dealing with diabetes or exhibit any of the symptoms of a diabetic foot. Here are some of the conditions that may occur if diabetes is affecting your feet.
Diabetic Neuropathy Symptoms to Look Out For
Athlete’s foot is an infection that occurs when germs enter through cracked areas of the skin, causing redness, cracking, and severe itching. Some medicinal creams and pills are available to treat and kill the fungus that causes Athlete’s foot.
Fungal Infection of the Nails
Fungal infection of nails sounds unpleasant, but more importantly, it can mean foot problems associated with diabetes. When nails become infected with fungus, they may appear yellowish to yellowish-brown or opaque in appearance. Aside from having yellow toenails, the nails may also become brittle and thick and may even crumble or separate from the foot.
Wearing shoes creates a dark and moist environment that is perfect for fungus to grow. An infection can also happen if the nail has been damaged or injured. There are medications available to treat fungal infections. Still, these medications don’t always work for every type of infection. And in some cases, the damaged nail may have to be removed by your doctor.
In most cases, calluses are normal. They are the buildup of hard skin, typically occurring on the bottoms of the feet, and are normally caused by uneven body weight distribution on the feet. Skin conditions can cause other reasons for calluses of the feet or if your shoes don’t fit properly.
A regular visit to your doctor will let you know if any of those conditions cause your calluses or something related to the blood sugar problems associated with diabetes. If the calluses aren’t severe, you can try these treatments:
- A gentle scrub from a pumice stone
- Putting padding in your shoes
- Buying better-fitting footwear
- Taking medications to help soften the skin
Corns are a buildup of hard skin around the toe areas of the foot. They may be the result of tight-fitting shoes that create friction on the toes. Change your shoes, give your feet a proper soak, and scrub them gently with a pumice stone to rule out this possibility. Avoid cutting corns or removing them with sharp objects.
Shoes that rub against the feet can create blisters on the feet, which may become infected if not treated. Popping blisters is not recommended, as the skin of the blister forms to help protect the skin from infection. You can use antibacterial creams to clean the area. Then place soft bandages on the area to prevent the spread of infection.
Poorly fitting shoes seem to be a culprit for many foot problems, including bunions. Bunions occur when the big toe bends towards the second toe. This area can become inflamed, callused and may even stick out and harden.
Bunions may be hereditary, but in many cases, it is a direct result of shoes with narrow toes, such as high heels, with constant pressure from the footwear pushing the big toe inward towards the other toes. If left untreated, surgery may be the only option to fix the condition and realign the toes.
Although quite common, dry skin on the feet can be problematic. It could allow germs to enter and grow in the cracks. Moisturizers and lotions recommended by your doctor may help keep the skin of the feet softened.
Foot ulcers are deep sores or breaks in the skin, which, if not treated, can become infected. They typically appear when a minor scrape happens or if a cut heals slower than usual. If you begin developing ulcers, treat them immediately, and avoid further foot complications with a foot exam.
A hammertoe is a foot problem where a weakened muscle in the foot causes a bent toe. These weaker muscles affect the tendons, making them shorter and causing the toes to curl under the feet. Hammertoes are genetic, but shoes that are too small can cause it. Hammertoes can significantly affect walking, and you may require surgery to keep your toenails straight.
An ingrown toenail happens when the edges of your toenail grow into the toe’s skin, causing pain and pressure on the nail edges. The toenails may cut into your skin, causing redness, pain, drainage, swelling, and infection.
Again, shoes are the number one culprit for this condition. It can also occur if you don’t cut your nails correctly or because of repetitive activities such as excess running, walking, or other physical activity.
People with diabetes may be required to wear corrective shoes or visit their doctor regularly to care for this problem since you may require surgery to remove the infected part of the toenail.
Plantar warts may look similar to calluses on the heel of the foot. They are caused by a virus that infects the skin’s outer surface and will have tiny pinholes or small black spots in the center. These warts can be extremely painful in severe cases and can grow as clusters or as a single wart. There are several procedures available to remove them.
Peripheral Neuropathy and Peripheral Arterial Disease
Peripheral neuropathy can easily be mistaken for peripheral arterial disease (or peripheral vascular disease). However, peripheral neuropathy affects the nervous system, while peripheral arterial disease affects the blood vessels. Both peripheral neuropathy and peripheral arterial disease may have similar symptoms, such as severe leg pain, so it is crucial to have this checked by a doctor immediately.
How to Treat Diabetic Feet
People with diabetes have options to help relieve pain and tackle the problems associated with foot health and diabetes. From having a warm water foot rinse, changing your shoes, adopting healthy living, and seeing a professional who can provide medical advice, you can effectively keep a diabetes complication at bay.
You can also visit the American Diabetes Association website for more information and resources to help you. Here are some ways people with diabetes can help themselves right now:
- A daily foot check. Check your feet daily for swelling, redness, corns, blisters, calluses, or any unusual skin or nail condition.
- Clean feet. Wash your feet daily in warm water, dry them thoroughly and then apply lotion to the top and bottom of your feet. Avoid putting lotion between your toes as it may create an infection.
- Never walk barefoot. Always wear socks, shoes, or slippers to avoid making the condition worse.
- Shoes that fit. Wear shoes that fit your foot correctly, allowing room for the blood flow to reach your feet and toes.
- Trim your nails. Keeping your toenails trimmed straight across and the edges smoothed with a nail file will help with any pressure or pain and reduce the risk of infection.
- Treat corns and calluses gently. Never remove corns with a sharp object. Avoid using over-the-counter products to help remove them. Visit your doctor for proper removal of corns and calluses.
- Blood flow. Keep the blood flowing by putting your feet up while you sit or wiggle your toes many times throughout the day.
- Get active. Check with your doctor to see what activities are best for people with diabetes. Foot-friendly activities such as swimming, bike riding, and walking are good for the feet. Make sure you have the proper footwear on!
- See your doctor. This point cannot be stressed enough. A doctor will help you with blood sugar level monitoring, examine the foot for skin conditions from blisters to calluses and even tissue death, offer treatments and find ways to rule out other health problems such as cardiovascular disease and digestive and kidney diseases.
A Step Toward Healthy Feet
Most people who have diabetes feel it differently, but the most common way is in the feet. With daily foot care at home and regular visits to your doctor, you can ease the pain, treat the symptoms, and get your mobility back on track.
By following a healthy lifestyle and getting the proper medical advice, you’ll prevent minor problems associated with diabetes from becoming more serious conditions. If you suffer from diabetes it is worth speaking to a foot care specialist. At the Birmingham Foot Care Specialists, we can help set up a plan to help you manage your foot care regime. A podiatrist can help you manage any pre-existing conditions to ensure that they do not spiral out of control. Get in touch today.