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.
• Wash your feet daily. Don’t soak your feet, as it can dry out your skin, which can lead to infections.
• Be sure to dry your feet carefully, especially between the toes. Rub a doctor-recommended lotion on the tops and bottoms of your feet – but not between your toes; moisture between the toes will allow germs to grow that could cause infection.
• Trim your toenails carefully. After washing and drying your feet, trim your toenails. Trim the nails to follow the natural curve, but don’t cut into the corners. If you can’t see well, or if your nails are thick or yellowed, get them trimmed by a foot doctor or another healthcare provider. If you see redness around the nails, see your doctor immediately.
• Never cut or use a razor on corns or calluses. Ask your doctor how to use a pumice stone to rub them.
• Protect your feet from heat and cold. Hot water or surfaces are dangerous to your feet. Test your bath water with your elbow and wear shoes and socks when you walk on hot surfaces. In summer, use sunscreen on the tops of your feet, and in the winter, wear socks and warm footwear to protect your feet.
• Always wear shoes and socks. Never walk barefoot – even indoors.
• Wear shoes that fit well and protect your feet. Don’t wear shoes that have plastic uppers, and don’t wear sandals with thongs between the toes. New shoes should be comfortable when you buy them. Always wear stockings or socks made of cotton or wool to help keep your feet dry.
• Be physically active. Physical activity helps increase the circulation in your feet. If you are not able to walk, ask your doctor about seated or reclining exercises for your feet and legs.
Your feet are an important part of your body and your lifestyle. Weatherford Regional Medical Center can help you keep them healthy. Women are invited to join our Healthy Woman program, “Steps Toward Healthier Feet,” to learn more about foot care in women on Thursday evening, April 25. A light dinner will be served. Visit www.WeatherfordRegional.com/HealthyWoman to register for this event or call 817-341-7465.
To learn more about diabetes management or prevention, visit www.WeatherfordRegional.com, choose the “Health Resources” tab and type “Diabetes” in the search box. You will find an array of videos and podcasts, health tips, a risk assessment – and more. If you or a loved one has diabetes, Weatherford Regional Medical Center provides a Wound Care and Hyperbaric Center.
This center is led by board-certified physicians and designed to prevent and treat chronic or hard-to-heal wounds. The multidisciplinary team consists of health care professionals working together in collaboration to create an atmosphere of trust and comfort while delivering comprehensive wound management. Call 817-596-7000 for more information.
About the author
Jayme Cornwell, DPM, is a podiatrist at Lonestar Foot and Ankle Group and an independent member of the allied medical staff at Weatherford Regional Medical Center. She provides foot care patients of all ages and is now accepting new patients. To schedule an appointment, call 817-573-3338 or visit www.lonestarfootandankle.wordpress.com.
This information is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor, but rather to increase awareness and help equip patients with information to facilitate conversations with their physician.