Diabetics are at risk of a range of foot complications as a result of their condition. We take a look at some of the most common diabetic foot problems, how they’re treated and what you can do to prevent them.
Diabetes occurs when your blood glucose, or ‘blood sugar’, is too high. It’s not curable, but it is manageable. However, that high blood sugar can lead to some serious health problems in certain parts of your body—particularly your feet.
Nerve damage and infection
That extra sugar in your bloodstream can cause nerve damage and poor blood flow in your feet, therefore some of the most common diabetic foot problems can start with nerve damage. If nerves get damaged, they may stop sending pain signals to your brain. Alternatively, the damaged nerves may send the signals too late, or at completely the wrong time (a sort of ‘phantom pain’). These problems mean you may not become aware of things that need attention. You might be unable to feel pain, heat or cold. You might get a stone in your shoe that is rubbing and causing a sore, but not be able to feel it or you might not feel a blister from badly fitting shoes. As well as being painful, nerve damage can also lead to changes in the muscles and bones in your feet, so they change shape and become deformed.
Infections and foot attacks
More seriously, you may suffer what is known as a ‘foot attack’. This is where a small break in the skin quickly develops into a serious infection. Foot attacks can start from something as small as a blister, or a cut from standing on something sharp. If you’ve lost feeling in your feet, you may not be aware that anything has happened. These small cuts and sores can easily become infected—and the higher glucose in your blood can feed the infection, making it worse. Your foot may become red, warm or swollen, or you may have discharge oozing out of the infected cut, or you may start feeling generally unwell. Foot attacks are a medical emergency; if you think you’re having one, contact your GP straight away. You will probably be prescribed antibiotics to combat the infection, and the treatment for your diabetes may be changed.
Poor blood flow
If you have poor blood flow, your blood vessels cannot get enough blood to your legs and feet. This also makes it harder for sores and infections to heal. It’s sometimes called peripheral artery disease, or PAD. If infections don’t heal, you could get gangrene. The skin and tissue around the sore die, and the whole area turns black and smelly. As with infections, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, or they may be able to clear out your blood vessels to get the blood flowing again. Alternatively, they may have to cut away some of the gangrenous flesh.
Gangrene and foot attacks can be extremely serious. Sadly, some diabetics are obliged to have toes and even whole feet amputated (cut off in surgery) due to infections that have not healed. Amputation is one of the most common diabetic procedures, it is a major operation that is carried out under general anaesthetic in a hospital.
Looking after your feet
Your doctor will be able to advise you on how to look after your feet. If you suffer a serious problem, you might be referred to a specialist podiatrist or a foot protection service. That, in turn, might lead to further treatment, or just advice on how to choose the right footwear and make sure your feet stay healthy. It’s important you avoid common diabetic foot problems such as corns, calluses, blisters, ingrown toenails, bunions, warts and athlete’s foot. Even dry and cracked skin can let in an infection. Wearing shoes that fit properly is essential, and it’s always worth checking for little stones or other sharp objects inside before you put them on. Avoid garters and stockings, or socks with elastic tops, because they can restrict circulation. Making sure your feet are always clean and dry will also help – sweat is a breeding ground for bacteria. Spotting problems early is crucial. Check your feet for signs of redness, pain, hard skin build-up or changes in shape every day. Get someone to do the quick ‘touch the toes test’ to monitor the feeling in your feet. It’s also worth having a thorough foot check at least once a year.
See also: Are You at Risk of Diabetes
One simple step you can take to protect yourself from common diabetic foot problems is to invest in some specialist socks, such as IOMI Footnurse Cushion Foot Diabetic Socks, which are specially designed for people with diabetes, those with wider ankles and lower legs or just anyone who appreciates really comfortable socks.
A cushioned sole protects the feet from impacts, helping to reduce nicks, cuts and sores, while the smooth toe seam prevents rubbing and chafing. An extra-wide leg helps to ease circulation and the socks are made from a special CoolMax fabric that wicks away moisture from the skin, helping to keep it clean and dry, while special sanitising treatment helps to prevent infection. Another way to avoid the most common diabetic foot problems is to use Gentle Grip diabetic socks, perfect for if you need to wear thinner socks (for example, with formal shoes). They have an extra-wide Honeycomb Top that moulds to the natural shape of your leg, plus a hand-linked toe to prevent rubbing and sores.
Our thanks to Drew Brady & Co for providing the content for this article. Today Drew Brady is recognised as one of the largest importers of socks in the UK and has become expert in distributing and exporting worldwide. To find out more about their products visit: gentlegrip.co.uk/diabetic
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