Diabetes can cause serious health complications, including problems that affect your feet. Common foot problems that often affect people without diabetes can become severe or even life threatening to a diabetic. Although the American Diabetes Association reports that people with diabetes account for about 60 percent of lower-extremity amputations performed on adults age 20 or older, managing your diabetes and taking proper care of your feet reduces your risk of foot ulcers and infections that can lead to the loss of a limb.
Do not smoke tobacco.
Diabetes causes the small blood vessels in your feet and legs to narrow, decreasing blood flow. Smoking affects your circulation by making arteries harden. While poor blood circulation contributes to wounds healing slowly, it isn't the only potential problem.
Restricted blood flow can lead to the formation of blood clots. If clots get lodged in small vessels, muscle and bone tissue can die from the lack of adequate oxygen to the cells. Gangrene occurs as the dead tissue starts to decay. In severe cases of gangrene, amputation of the affected toes, foot, or leg may be necessary if antibiotic treatment, vascular surgery, or tissue debridement have failed to prevent the infection from spreading.
Avoid wearing shoes that fit too tight.
Wearing shoes that are too tight can lead to diabetic foot syndrome, symptoms of which include foot problems such as infections, foot deformities, ulcers, and nerve damage. Diabetes puts you at risk for developing ulcers, which you can't always feel and don't see if they are on the bottom of your feet. Ulcers that go untreated by a doctor can become infected and lead to amputation if the infection spreads deep into your foot. Shoes that fit too tight can also cause blisters, calluses, corns, and ingrown toenails -- foot injuries you don't want if you have diabetes.
Don't use a heating pad on your feet.
If you have diabetic neuropathy -- nerve damage in your feet -- you may be tempted to apply a heating pad to warm cold feet. However, neuropathy can also cause a loss of feeling in your feet. Consequently, you may not feel how hot the heating pad gets, which could lead to a burn on your foot. Likewise, if your neuropathy causes heat insensitivity, you should not use an electric heating blanket.
Report any sores, blisters, discoloration, corns, or calluses on your feet to your doctor or podiatrist. Let your doctor know immediately if you cut your foot or toes. You may not think an injury is serious, especially if there is no bleeding or pain, but injuries of any kind involving the foot can lead to serious complications if you are a diabetic.
While you should not let calluses go untrimmed, only a doctor (such as Michael Scanlon DPM) should cut calluses and corns. Calluses that aren't trimmed can lead to ulcers and infection. If you get an ulcer on the ball of your foot or bottom of a toe, walking can force the infection deeper into the tissue in your foot, perhaps even infecting the bone. An infection that becomes severe can lead to the loss of the limb.
Only cut your toenails yourself if you can see well.
It's important to be able to trim your toenails safely so that you don't accidentally hurt yourself. Cut toenails straight across. Don't cut them too short or round the corners; otherwise, you risk ingrown toenails. Diabetes already makes you more susceptible to having the problem. An ingrown toenail can cause a localized infection which can worsen and lead to a soft tissue or bone infection.
A few weeks ago, my wife made me go to the nail salon with her. Instead of sitting around for hours while my wife perused nail decals and polish options, I decided to get a pedicure. It was a really relaxing experience, but I quickly discovered that the process was about more than a foot bath. Before I knew it, someone was cutting and sanding my toenails. Unfortunately, a few days later I developed a massive ingrown toenail infection, which my podiatrist attributed to my visit to the nail salon. I want everyone to know how to properly care for their feet, so I made this website.