The elevated blood sugar levels associated with diabetes mellitus cause a range of complications. Between one-third and one-half of diabetics will eventually develop peripheral neuropathy, a form of nerve damage that typically affects the feet and legs. Combined with the reduced circulation that also affects diabetics, peripheral neuropathy means that even minor foot issues can quickly become medical emergencies, possibly even leading to amputation. For this reason, diabetic foot care should be high on the list of diabetic self-care.
A study at the Regenstrief Institute for Health Care in Indianapolis showed that diabetics who practiced proper foot care were nearly 60% less likely to have a serious foot problem than those who did not.
Diabetics should follow these ten tips to make sure their feet get the care they need to keep them healthy:
- Check your feet, including the bottoms and between the toes, every day.
If you can’t see a part of your feet properly, use a mirror, or ask someone else to check it for you.
Issues to look out for during this daily check include:
Blisters; corns; calluses; athlete’s foot; red spots; ingrown toenails; cuts; cracks in the skin; swelling; unusual odor; changes in how the foot looks, whether in color or shape; changes in how the foot feels, including tingling, numbness, warmth, or burning.
- Never use over-the-counter medications to treat any foot problem you might find. Diabetic feet are very sensitive, and these products may irritate rather than cure the problem. Call your doctor instead.
- Wash and dry your feet every day.
- Be sure to dry between your toes especially well, since residual moisture between the toes can lead to a fungal infection.
- Moisturize the tops and bottoms of feet.
- Use talcum powder or cornstarch between your toes to keep those areas dry.
- Always wear socks and shoes. Going barefoot — even at home — or wearing shoes without socks can lead to cuts and other injuries that are dangerous for the diabetic foot.
- Make sure socks are always dry and clean. Change them daily, at minimum; more frequently if they become sweaty or otherwise wet.
- Encourage circulation to your feet by putting them up whenever you’re sitting, and by not crossing your legs for any extended period of time.
- Keep your blood sugar under control. While this is not technically a foot care issue, blood sugar regulation affects every aspect of a diabetic’s health.
Follow these ten tips, and remain happily on your feet for years to come, despite your diabetes.