Diabetes affects roughly 6% of the US population, 15% over the age of 65. Diabetes can have a devastating effect on the foot and leg, resulting in non-healing foot wounds and even leg or foot amputation.
Diabetes and the Foot
Diabetes can often cause numbness or burning sensations in the foot. The cause of this pain is excess glucose (sugar) that attacks the nerves in the feet causing temporary tingling or burning – and in some cases even complete numbness. Because these diabetics don’t feel normal pain, they are vulnerable to foot damage.
These effects of diabetes can alter the biomechanics and muscle balance, causing hammertoes and calluses.
Dry, cracked skin is another symptom. If poorly controlled, diabetes can clog the blood vessels in the feet and cause poor circulation. The dry skin and calluses, in conjunction with the poor circulation can lead to wounds. But without enough blood to the feet, wounds or cuts won’t heal and can even become gangrene. The result, foot or leg amputation.
Diabetes and Wounds
- Diabetic foot wounds should be treated promptly to compensate for the longer healing times and avoid future complications.
- Often wounds need to be cleaned or “debrided” to remove all dead or infected tissue.
- Antibiotics may be necessary if the wound becomes infected.
- Special shoes or splints may be necessary to relieve pressure to the wound.
- Special skin grafts can help wounds heal more effectively.
- For chronic wounds, or if the bone becomes infected, the patient may be given pure oxygen in a hyperbaric chamber to speed the healing process and avoid amputation.
- A team approach to curing diabetic wounds may be necessary. The team might include an endocrinologist (to control sugar), infectious disease specialist, vascular surgeon (to restore proper blood flow), dietician, and a diabetic educator.
Foot Tips for Diabetics
- Have your feet examined twice a year by a podiatrist.
- Wash your feet daily and dry them carefully, especially between the toes.
- Inspect your feet daily for calluses, cracks and cuts, especially between the toes.
- Don’t smoke. Cigarettes will shrink the blood vessels making circulation problems even worse.
- Try to avoid fried or greasy foots. They clog the blood vessels over time.
- Do not walk barefoot.
- Trim your toe nails straight across and don’t make them too short.
- Wear wider toe athletic shoes. Avoid narrow toe dress shoes.
- Always remember to check your sugar levels each day and watch your diet so as to keep your diabetes under control.