Peripheral arterial disease (PAD), diabetic neuropathy, and skin conditions, including calluses, all of which are common among people with diabetes, can cause foot problems. If infection sets in, it can lead to amputation of a foot and leg.
The American Podiatric Medical Association reports that doctors amputate more than 65,000 lower limbs each year because of diabetes-related complications. But regularly seeing a podiatrist can reduce the risk up to 85 percent. Knowing the risks and how to properly care for your feet helps prevent complications that may require amputation.
Circulation Problems Reduce Blood Flow
Diabetes puts you at high risk of developing peripheral artery disease. When you have diabetes, blood vessels in your feet and legs narrow and harden. Poor circulation reduces blood flow to your feet, making it harder to fight infection because sores won't heal as fast.
Symptoms of peripheral artery disease include cold feet, leg pain when you walk, or cramping in your calf muscles after you walk or climb stairs. Pain can be mild or debilitating. Additional symptoms include numbness or weakness in your legs, weak pulse in your feet, and shiny skin and hair loss your legs.
Skin Problems Lead to Infection
An ulcer on the bottom of your foot or big toe can lead to infection without the proper treatment. Ulcers don't always hurt, but the bone and surrounding tissue still can become infected. Even foot calluses can develop into ulcers if you neglect them, increasing your risk of infection.
If your diabetes is uncontrolled, high blood sugar levels make it harder for your body to fight off infection. High blood glucose and poor circulation in your feet keep an ulcer from healing. Seeing you family doctor or podiatrist such as Michael Scanlon DPM when you first notice an ulcer helps prevent complications from developing.
Nerve Damage Is a Common Problem
People with diabetes can develop nerve damage at any time. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates that between 60 and 70 percent of individuals with diabetes eventually develop some form of neuropathy (nerve damage). The risk of diabetic neuropathies increases as you get older and have the disease for longer.
Nerve damage can occur in any of the body's organ systems, but the hands, arms, legs, and feet often are affected. When the nerves in your feet are affected, you may not feel pain if you hurt your foot. Even a small blister can become infected if you don't know it's there. Once the skin breaks down, infection can set in.
Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy include stinging or tingling sensation in your foot, inability to feel heat or cold, loss of coordination and balance, and weakness in your legs and feet.
Basic Foot-Care Regimens Doctors Recommend:
Stay off your feet. Not putting pressure on the foot helps keep an infected skin sore from spreading to tissue deeper in the foot. Since walking can make the situation worse, your doctor may recommend wearing therapeutic shoes or a cast on your foot to prevent an ulcer from getting bigger.
Stop smoking. If you have poor circulation in your feet, smoking makes arteries harden faster. It also may be necessary to lower your cholesterol and blood pressure. High blood pressure damages artery walls causing scar tissue, which then collects cholesterol. As these fatty deposits build up, your arteries narrow and harden.
Get regular exercise. Physical activity stimulates blood flow in your feet and legs. If you walk for exercise, wear comfortable, well-fitted shoes, but don't walk if you have an open sore on the bottom of your foot until it heals.
Wear diabetic socks. These are designed to keep your feet dry and cool. Choose socks made of cotton-synthetic blends that pull excess moisture away from your feet. Too much moisture encourages the growth of bacteria that can cause foot infections. Dry your feet thoroughly after bathing or showering.
Use a pumice stone on wet skin. Regular foot care keeps calluses from building up. Inspect your feet every day. If you need a callus trimmed, make an appointment with your podiatrist. Don't try to do it yourself. Your doctor can safely shave off the layers of dead skin to prevent an ulcer from forming.