Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to devastating consequences and complications throughout the body. Nerve damage. Kidney failure. Blindness.
The feet, unfortunately, are no exception. In fact, diabetic feet are especially vulnerable to damage—including open sores, gangrene, and severely deformed and broken feet. Ultimately, you could lose your feet entirely due to a forced amputation.
Why Is Diabetes So Dangerous?
You see, over time, high levels of sugar in the bloodstream begin to poison nerves and slow your circulation. Although this happens throughout the body, the feet and hands are often the hardest hit and first to develop severe symptoms.
Why is this so serious?
Without good circulation, your body’s cells don’t get the nourishment they need and can begin to die. You also can’t close wounds or fight off infections as effectively.
And without healthy nerves, you might not even notice that you’ve been cut or injured until hours—or days—after it happens. So there’s even more opportunity for a serious complication to develop.
How Can I Prevent This from Happening?
Fortunately, a diabetes diagnosis is not a “death sentence” for your feet. In fact, the most severe diabetic foot complications are virtually 100% preventable.
But you have to know how to care for yourself, and be disciplined about your self-care.
Do you want to stay active and complication-free for as long as possible? Here’s your basic roadmap.
High levels of blood sugar are the mechanism by which diabetes does most of its damage. And to a large extent, those sugar levels are determined by what you put in your body when you eat and drink. That’s true for everybody, of course—not just diabetics. But because those with diabetes either do not produce enough insulin (Type 1), or the insulin they do produce doesn’t work very efficiently (Type 2), they cannot remove excess sugar from their system nearly as quickly.
Sugary snacks and drinks are obvious items to avoid, but they aren’t the only foot items that can cause a spike in blood sugar. Excess calories and fat (especially saturated and trans fats) also cause blood sugar to rise. Too much cholesterol and sodium (salt) are also problematic.
A healthy diet should consist of plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, and low-fat dairy. In general, stick to leaner meats and fish for your protein.
But it’s not just what you eat, it’s also how much and how often. If you have diabetes, it’s generally better to eat several (at least three) smaller meals at regular times throughout the day, and grab a small healthy snack between meals if you need it. When you do this, it’s much easier to keep sugar levels more moderated and consistent throughout the day. When you skip meals, eat at different times each day, and eat more at a time, sugar levels are more prone to wild swings—too high after a meal, too low before the next one.
Speak with your general practitioner or a dietician for more advice about what your specific dietary needs may be.
Take Your Medications and Check Your Sugar Regularly
Of course, even if you generally eat healthy meals, it’s still important to keep an eye on your sugar. This allows you to react quickly and grab a snack whenever your sugar gets too low, or take your medications when it starts edging too high.
Again, diabetes does its damage over time due to regularly elevated sugar levels. When you keep sugar within a healthy range, it won’t hurt you.
Regular exercise is an extremely important component of diabetes management. At bare minimum, you should shoot for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least 4 times per week. The more you can do, the better.
Benefits of exercise include:
- Lowers your blood sugar in the moment.
- Helps you lose weight and lower your body fat, which can improve insulin sensitivity (if you have Type 2) and also helps control blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Builds strength and bone density, which reduces the risk of injury.
One thing to keep in mind, though—you want to make sure you’re exercising safely. Diabetes can lower your bone density and make you more susceptible to injury. And as we said, if you’ve already lost some sensation in your feet due to nerve damage, you’re at greater risk of sustaining an undetected injury from exercise.
Never begin an exercise plan without checking in with your doctor first. He or she will be able to set safe guidelines and realistic expectations. In general, those who are at high risk should stick to low-impact forms of exercise such as walking, swimming, cycling, and weight training.
Perform a Foot and Ankle Self-Check Every Day
Many of us are guilty of taking our feet for granted and overlooking minor issues. Unfortunately, if you have diabetes, there is no such thing as a “minor” foot issue.
At least once per day, spend five minutes giving yourself a thorough foot check:
- Ensure the lighting is good and you can see the whole foot. (Use a hand-held mirror if necessary for those hard-to-see spots.) Don’t forget the spaces between the toes!
- Make a complete visual examination. Check for anything that looks unusual—not just cuts and bruises, but also signs of redness, swelling, corns, cracked skin, ingrown toenails, etc.
- Feel your feet with your hands. Do you notice any unusual bumps? Changes in temperature?
Nothing is too minor to note. Don’t ignore anything!
Should your inspections reveal a problem, and it does not improve within a couple of days, make an appointment with us as soon as possible. (We understand how critical diabetic foot complications can be and will do everything we can to get you in rapidly—same day if possible.)
Get a Diabetic Foot Checkup from a Podiatrist at Least Once Per Year
Unfortunately, the two most fundamental diabetic foot complications—neuropathy and poor circulation—aren’t always easy to detect on your own. In fact, by the time you notice any symptoms, the damage to your system may already be quite severe.
That’s one reason among many to get a full checkup from a podiatrist at least annually—even if you aren’t experiencing any obvious symptoms.
We can provide vascular testing and other diagnostic procedures to identify emerging complications before they become severe. We can also help fit you for orthotics, diabetic shoes, and other preventative treatments that reduce your risk of injury and can keep you active and independent for longer.
Has it been too long since your last checkup? Or perhaps you’ve discovered something during your self-exam? If so, please give Dr. Bruce Scudday a call today at (915) 533-5151 to set up an appointment.