By JAYME CORNWELL, DPM, podiatrist
Diabetes affects 25.8 million people, or 8.3 percent of the U.S. population. About 60 percent to 70 percent of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of nervous system damage that might result in impaired sensation or pain in the feet or hands.
In 2008 alone, more than 70,000 people with diabetes had a leg or foot amputated. While diabetes can lead to serious complications and premature death, by taking steps to control the disease, including being aware of foot health, people with diabetes can manage the disease and lower their risk for complications, including lower-extremity amputations.
Why diabetes affects the feet
Diabetes has the potential to harm your feet because blood flow is reduced to certain areas of the body, especially limbs such as the legs. This makes it harder injuries to heal. Also, diabetes-related nerve damage may cause you to no longer feel pain in your feet, and you may not realize you have a wound or injury that needs treatment.
Typical warning signs of nerve damage in the feet include:
• Pain in your legs or cramping in your buttocks, thighs, or calves during physical activity.
• Tingling, burning, or aching in the feet.
• Lost sense of touch or unable to feel heat or cold well.
• A change in the shape of your feet over time.
• Loss of hair on your toes, feet, and lower legs.
• Dry and cracked skin on the feet.
• Thick and yellow toenails.
• Fungal infection between your toes.
• Blisters, sores, ulcers, infected corns, and ingrown toenails.
Protecting your feet
Over half of diabetes-related amputations can be prevented with regular exams and patient education, which includes the following simple tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
• Have your doctor check your feet at least four times a year.
• Check your feet each day. Because you may not feel foot pain, look at the tops and bottoms of your feet and toes every day to check for scratches, cracks, cuts, or blisters. If you can’t see well, ask a family member or friend to help. Call your doctor if you have any sores.