Why Diabetes Includes a Focus on Your Feet
Living with diabetes is not always easy, and probably never feels fair.
November is National Diabetes Month. The intention is to focus on the more than 30 million Americans who have this condition and the impact it has on their lives. This month also coincides with the beginning of a long holiday season. A festive flood of poor food choices flows at nearly every gathering and navigating it, while others indulge, can be difficult.
However, there are people who understand what types of challenges and consequences you face and are willing to support you every step of the way. Podiatrists are one of those people. We pay very special attention to good diabetic care because the negative effects unchecked diabetes can have on your feet can be devastating.
The Hidden Dangers of Diabetes to the Feet
Diabetes increases the risks of serious foot damage in two ways: reducing the quality of circulation and damaging nerves in the feet.
Circulation provides the body with the oxygen and nutrients our cells need to survive. Our legs and feet are far from our hearts to begin with, which makes the task of reaching them more challenging even when our circulatory systems are at peak performance. (Think of how your feet tend to be the first parts of your body that get cold.)
When diabetes reduces blood flow, the feet are often the first area of the body to feel the consequences. Sores and other injuries on the feet may take longer to heal, as the cells in need of repair are not receiving as many of the nutrients and healing factors from the blood as they need. Sometimes, full healing won’t happen at all without medical intervention.
The nerves in our feet can also suffer from reduced circulation and damage from diabetes. This condition is known as diabetic neuropathy and can be especially dangerous.
As nerves in the feet suffer damage, the ability to sense pain, temperature, and other factors begins to deteriorate. When combined with a diminished ability to heal, what were once small problems can develop into very serious circumstances.
Let’s say a small cut develops on the bottom of the foot. However, due to diabetic neuropathy, this injury is not felt. Nobody knows it exists, so nothing is done to treat it. What could happen?
Healing in the foot is reduced, so the cut remains. If it is still not felt, the person continues through life as if nothing is wrong. They bear weight on the cut every day, moving normally, and the cut begins to widen. It becomes worse, developing into an ulcer. The wound then becomes infected. If this doesn’t improve with treatment, amputation may be necessary.
The potential escalation is frightening. It is also very real and happens much more often than it should. According to the National Diabetes Statistics Report, about 108,000 lower extremity amputations were performed in 2014 as a result of diabetic complications.
The good news is that, with the proper attention and care, problems can be addressed before they get a chance to worsen.
Prevention is the Best Form of Treatment
The effects of diabetes can slowly creep in over time. No matter how much it is currently affecting you, developing good preventative care habits now is key to maintaining your health through the future.
An enormous part of proper diabetic foot care is committing to a daily self-inspection of your feet. This involves looking at and even feeling along your feet for anything that should not be there. This includes cuts and sores, but also lumps, blemishes, ingrown nails, calluses, blisters, and other abnormalities.
If you spot something, let us know. Never hesitate to contact us with any questions. If you identify yourself as a patient with diabetes, we will always get back to you as soon as possible.
We will either ask you to come in or that you keep a close eye on the area of concern. If it does not show signs of improvement, we may have to intervene to ensure no further complications develop.
A regular schedule of professional check-ups is also recommended. We strongly suggest coming to our office for an examination once every three months. Even if your daily inspections have not turned up any concerns, we are better equipped to evaluate the progression of your foot health over time and address potential concerns before they even have a chance to arise.
As part of preventative care, we may prescribe diabetic shoes and socks to minimize irritation against your feet and further reduce the risk of cuts and abrasion. In cases where weight is distributed across the feet abnormally, or there are deformities such as bunions and hammertoes, we may prescribe custom orthotics to relieve pressure points.
If you do develop a wound or sore in need of treatment, our practice is fully equipped to clean, sanitize, bandage, and provide whatever additional assistance is needed to ensure the injury has every chance to heal.
Awareness from All Angles
As part of general diabetes management, diabetic foot care helps provide more comfort and security to a vital part of you.
We understand the challenges, and that’s why we are happy to be part of every patient’s care. A foot specialist is a powerful ally, and that is exactly what we wish to be.
If you need to speak with a podiatrist regarding diabetes, our two locations are here for you. Call our Holland office at (616) 393-8886 or our St. Joseph office at (269) 429-7670. If you would rather send your questions electronically, we have an online form you can use as well!