For those with diabetes, a seemingly insignificant foot problem can produce dangerous consequences. Experts say that managing this risk is an important part of diabetes care.
“Living with diabetes increases the risk of developing a wide range of foot problems, often because of two complications of the disease: nerve damage and poor circulation,” says Dr. Brett Sachs, DPM, FACFAS, a Denver foot and ankle surgeon and Fellow Member of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS). “However, you can play a vital role in prevention.”
To avoid serious foot problems that could result in losing a toe, foot or leg, follow these guidelines from ACFAS foot and ankle surgeons:
• Inspect feet daily. Diabetes may cause nerve damage, which takes away the feeling in your feet, so a daily visual inspection is important. Check for cuts, blisters, redness, swelling or nail problems. Use a magnifying hand mirror to look at the bottom of your feet. Call your foot and ankle surgeon if you notice any issues.
• Bathe feet gently. Wash your feet daily with a soft washcloth or sponge using only lukewarm water. Dry by blotting carefully.
• Moisturize. Use a moisturizer daily to keep dry skin from itching or cracking. But don’t moisturize between the toes — that could encourage a fungal infection.
• Cut nails carefully. Cut nails straight across and file the edges. Don’t cut too short, as this could lead to ingrown toenails.
• Never treat corns or calluses yourself. Don’t perform “bathroom surgery” or use medicated pads. Visit your doctor for appropriate treatment.
• Wear proper socks. Always wear clean, dry socks. You may want to consider those made specifically for patients living with diabetes, which have extra cushioning, no elastic tops, are higher than the ankle and are made from moisture-wicking fibers.
• Shake out your shoes. Remember, your feet may not be able to feel a pebble or other foreign objects, so always inspect shoes before wearing them to help prevent blisters and sores that could lead to an infection or non-healing wound.
• Keep feet dry. Change your socks if they get wet. You may also consider using an antiperspirant on the soles of your feet.
• Never walk barefoot. It can be tempting to go barefoot in warmer weather. Never do so, not even at home. Always wear shoes or slippers to avoid getting scratched, cut or even burned from hot surfaces.
• Be active. Staying active is important. Just be extra careful, particularly if you play sports, to monitor your feet for related injuries.
• Treat your diabetes. Keep your blood sugar levels under control. Untreated diabetes can result in other conditions affecting the feet, including diabetic peripheral neuropathy and Charcot foot, a condition in which the bones of the foot are weakened enough to fracture.
• Don’t smoke. Smoking restricts blood flow in your feet.
• Get periodic foot exams. Your foot and ankle surgeon works with your other healthcare providers to prevent and treat complications from diabetes. See your foot and ankle surgeon regularly, or as soon as you notice any problems, to help prevent the foot complications of diabetes.
For more resources and tips regarding foot and ankle health and conditions, visit the ACFAS patient education website, FootHealthFacts.org.
“When it comes to diabetes care, don’t neglect your feet. Proper preventive care with the help of a foot and ankle surgeon can help keep your whole body healthy,” says Dr. Sachs.
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