Know the basics

What is diabetic foot?

People with diabetes can develop many different foot problems. Even ordinary problems can get worse and lead to serious complications. Foot problems most often happen when there is nerve damage, also called neuropathy.
Although it can hurt, diabetic foot nerve damage can also lessen your ability to feel pain, heat, and cold. Loss of feeling often means you may not feel a foot injury. You could have a tack or stone in your shoe and walk on it all day without knowing. You could get a blister and not feel it. You might not notice a foot injury until the skin breaks down and becomes infected.

Nerve damage can also lead to changes in the shape of your feet and toes.

How common is diabetic foot?

This condition is quite common, most people with diabetes suffer from it.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of diabetic foot?

Diabetic foot can cause tingling, pain (burning or stinging), or weakness in the foot. It can also cause loss of feeling in the foot, so you can injure it and not know it. Poor blood flow or changes in the shape of your feet or toes may also cause problems.

When should I see my doctor?

You should see your doctor urgently if:

  • you notice breaks in the skin of your foot, or discharge.
  • the skin over part or all of the foot changes colour and becomes more red, blue, pale or dark .
  • you notice extra swelling in your feet where there was a blister or injury.

Know the causes

What causes diabetic foot?

Diabetic foot is a common complication of diabetes.

Damaged nerves may stop sending signals, or they may send signals too slowly or at the wrong times. Nerve damage can cause you to lose feeling in your feet. You may not feel pain, heat, or cold in your legs and feet. You may not feel a pebble inside your sock that is causing a sore. You may not feel a blister caused by poorly fitting shoes.

Sores on your feet can become infected. If your blood glucose is high, the extra glucose feeds the infection in those sores and the infection gets worse. Nerve damage can also cause pain and lead to foot deformities, or changes in the muscles, bones, and shape of your feet.

Poor blood flow means not enough blood flows to your legs and feet through your blood vessels. Poor blood flow makes it hard for a sore or an infection to heal. This problem is called peripheral artery disease, also called PAD.

Sometimes, a bad infection never heals. The infection might cause gangrene. If you have gangrene, the skin and tissue around the sore die. The area becomes black and smelly.

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for diabetic foot?

Too much glucose, also called sugar, in your blood from diabetes can cause nerve damage and poor blood flow, which can lead to serious foot problems.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is diabetic foot diagnosed?

If you have diabetes, you will need to see your doctor at least once a year for a foot exam, or more often if you have foot problems. During the exam, your doctor will

  • look at your feet for signs of problems, especially if you have nerve damage
  • test the sense of feeling in your feet
  • test how well blood is flowing to your legs and feet
  • show you how to care for your feet
  • decide if special shoes or shoe inserts would help your feet stay healthy
  • trim your toenails if you cannot trim your own

Help your doctor care for your feet during every checkup. Start every checkup by taking off your shoes and socks. Tell your doctor about any foot problems you are having. If needed, your doctor may send you to a foot doctor, called a podiatrist.

How is diabetic foot treated?

Treatment depends upon the type of foot problem. For example, some problems such as corns may require wearing corrective shoes, while others such as mild infections may be treated with antibiotics or antifungals. Other problems may need surgical debridement and antibiotics. Gangrene, or tissue death, cannot be reversed, but treatments are available to prevent gangrene (often termed dry gangrene) from spreading or becoming infected (dry gangrene becomes infected and develops into wet gangrene). Surgical removal of the dead tissue is typically required, and antibiotics are given to prevent the development of life-threatening infections in the dead tissue. In severe cases of gangrene, amputation of the affected part may be necessary.

Other types of foot problems can be relieved by proper footwear, sometimes with orthotic devices, and splinting or bracing. For some conditions like hammertoes, bunions, and ingrown toenails; surgery may be necessary to correct severe cases.

People with neuropathy need to take special care of their feet. The nerves to the feet are the longest in the body and are the ones most often affected by neuropathy. Loss of sensation in the feet means that sores or injuries may not be noticed and may become ulcerated or infected. Circulation problems also increase the risk of foot ulcers. Smoking increases the risk of foot problems and amputation. A health care provider may be able to provide help with quitting smoking.
Careful foot care involves:

  • cleaning the feet daily using warm—not hot—water and a mild soap. Soaking the feet should be avoided. A soft towel can be used to dry the feet and between the toes.
  • inspecting the feet and toes every day for cuts, blisters, redness, swelling, calluses, or other problems. Using a mirror—handheld or placed on the floor—may be helpful in checking the bottoms of the feet, or another person can help check the feet. A health care provider should be notified of any problems.
  • People who need help taking care of their feet should consider making an appointment to see a foot doctor, also called a podiatrist.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage diabetic foot?

Some diabetes foot-related problems can be prevented by taking careful steps to observe and care for your feet. Keeping blood sugar levels under control (in the ranges advised by your doctor), and following your recommended diet and exercise program are the best way to prevent all complications of diabetes, including foot problems. In addition to keeping your diabetes under control, you can take steps to care for your feet, including the following:

  • Wear comfortable, closed-toe footwear at all times. Special shoes are available for people with bunions or foot deformities if these are necessary. Be sure no objects are trapped inside the shoes that could cut or injure your feet.
  • Don’t walk barefoot, even at home. Be sure your feet do not get burned by walking on very hot pavement in summer
  • Always wash your feet with warm water and dry them well after washing.
  • Check your feet daily for any sores or problems.
  • Apply lotion to dry areas, especially heels, but don’t use lotion between the toes. Corns and calluses can be lightly smoothed with a pumice stone. Never use scissors or razors to cut away corns or calluses.
  • Trim toenails straight across, and do not cut the corners shorter than the rest of the nail.
  • Be sure that your doctor checks your feet at every checkup.
  • Stop smoking, if you are a smoker. Smoking further increases the risk of arteriosclerosis and poor circulation to the feet.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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