Diabetes is a very common disease, with more than 30 million cases estimated in the United States (including those that remain undiagnosed). Unfortunately, those who suffer from this condition face serious short and long-term risks to the health of their feet.
Diabetes adversely affects your body’s ability to either produce (Type 1) or respond to (Type 2) insulin, an important hormone that helps sugar pass from your bloodstream into the cells of the body, where it can be used as energy. As a result, the cells can’t get the nutrients they need, while sugar levels in the bloodstream build to dangerous levels.
Uncontrolled diabetes puts your feet at risk by damaging nerves, reducing circulation, and making them more susceptible to ulceration and injury. You’re more likely to hurt yourself, less likely to realize a problem, and more likely to get infected.
Common Diabetic Foot Complications
Conditions we help manage or treat that commonly affect the feet include:
Excessive blood sugar poisons nerve cells. Over time, this can cause them to function improperly or even die. The extremities of the body, particularly the hands and feet, are often the earliest areas to experience symptoms. Initially this can mean pain or strange burning or shocking sensations, but in time this is usually replaced by dulled senses, if not total numbness.
The nerve damage that occurs as a result of diabetic neuropathy is usually not reversible. That means it is extremely important to seek medical help as early as possible and make healthy lifestyle changes in order to stop your condition from getting worse.
Without healthy nerves, you might not be able to feel it when you cut or injure yourself on your foot. You may not realize anything is wrong at all until the problem has already had many hours (or even days) to get worse. And that often leads to the next item on this list.
Diabetic foot ulcers
Cuts, blisters, or areas of the foot exposed to constant pressure or irritation can eventually cause the skin to break down. These ulcers are especially common in people with diabetes, due to both poor nerve function and reduced circulation in the extremities. If you don’t treat them in time, the ulcers can become infected, and that infection can spread. Serious wounds may even require an amputation of your foot or lower leg to contain.
It is, then, extremely important to treat the wound right away so that healing can occur as soon as possible. The longer the ulcer is exposed, the greater your risk of infection and other complications.
We provide wound care services at our office, including cleaning the wound and removing dead skin and tissue (debridement) and dressing the wound. It is very important to also “offload” and avoid putting weight or pressure on the wound. If necessary we can provide orthotics to help you offload, or refer you to home care services if we believe it can help you.
This severe and destructive condition is becoming more and more common. People with long-term, uncontrolled diabetes often suffer from weakened foot bones, which can ultimately break and crumble. If your neuropathy is severe, you may not even feel any pain.
Continuing to walk destabilizes the foot further. Often the arch completely collapses and takes a “rocker bottom” appearance. The ankle may become unstable as well. For patients with severe Charcot foot, walking may become difficult and ulcers frequently develop in pressure zones created by the deformity.
Early detection and treatment can allow Charcot foot to be managed non-invasively via bracing, orthotics, splints, and other alternatives. More advanced cases, however, will likely require surgical reconstruction of the foot—which comes with significant risks of complications. Without reconstructive surgery, amputation below the knee would otherwise be required.
Comprehensive Diabetic Foot Care
It is far better (and in the long run less expensive) to take a proactive approach to foot care if you have diabetes.
- Inspect your feet carefully every day for signs of injury or ulceration. Treat any issues that emerge promptly.
- Manage your condition by living a healthy lifestyle and keeping your blood sugar within a normal range as much as possible.
- Visit your foot care specialist at least once per year for further testing and a comprehensive check-up.
- If necessary, we can provide or refer you for diabetic shoes, orthotics, braces, and other preventative tools and treatments to reduce your risk of injuries and wounds.
If you have diabetes and it’s been a year since your last check-up, or you have any pain, injury, or signs of ulceration on your feet, please schedule an appointment with our team as soon as possible. We have two convenient offices in El Paso to serve you.