Diabetes and foot problems often go hand in hand—but they don’t have to.
“The development of foot problems is not an inevitable consequence of having diabetes,” said Andrew Boulton, chairperson of the American Diabetes Association’s Foot Council. “Indeed, most foot lesions are preventable.”
Across the globe, about a quarter of people with diabetes will develop sores or ulcers on their feet. Diabetes-related foot problems account for one in five hospital visits for diabetic patients and 60 percent of leg and foot amputations not caused by an injury such as a car crash. Diabetics age 45 or older are about 10 times more likely to lose a leg or foot than those without the disease.
Fortunately, by understanding how diabetes-related foot damage occurs—and taking measures to protect against injury—patients can avoid the need for amputation.
Risk Factors for Foot Problems
The single biggest factor that contributes to foot damage in diabetic patients is the loss of the ability to feel pain. This often prevents patients from seeking Portland diabetes wound care to prevent minor injuries from becoming serious problems.
“We will only achieve a reduction in neuropathic foot problems if we remember that people with insensitive feet have lost the warning signal that ordinarily brings a person to their doctor,” Boulton said. “It is vitally important that we realize that with the loss of pain comes reduced motivation to heal and prevent injury.”
Also called neuropathy, nerve damage affects 20 to 50 percent of diabetics. This can cause the loss of pain and temperature sensations that normally protect the feet from injury. Those who lose feeling in their feet are at a higher risk of injuries such as: rubs and ulcers from wearing tight shoes; burns from stepping into a too-hot bath; and painless ulcers from stepping on sharp objects while barefoot.
Although neuropathy isn’t the cause of these injuries, it does allow them to go unnoticed. Other risk factors for diabetic foot damage include:
Dry skin. As neuropathy causes the skin to dry out, hard calluses can build up under the weight-bearing parts of the feet. This can contribute to altered walking patterns, causing ulcers to appear on high-pressure areas of the soles.
Vascular damage. Diabetic patients also suffer greater damage to the blood vessels leading to the legs and feet, resulting in poor circulation and difficulty healing when the extremities become injured.
Ulcers most commonly develop in patients who have multiple risk factors. Those who have had ulcers or foot surgery in the past remain at greatest risk.
How to Care for Your Feet
To prevent the need for Portland diabetes wound care, doctors recommend taking the following measures to protect your feet:
- Get a complete foot exam at least once a year—more if you have a history of foot problems.
- Check your feet daily for cuts or breaks in the skin, ingrown toenails, or changes in the color, shape or sensation in your feet. Call your doctor if you notice anything.
- Keep toenails, corns and calluses carefully trimmed.
- Wear shoes and socks at all times, and protect your feet from extreme hot and cold.
- Wash and moisturize your feet daily, making sure to dry them carefully and avoid putting lotion between your toes.
- Keep the blood flowing in your feet by putting them up while sitting and wiggling your toes and ankles for five minutes two or three times a day.
By taking the right precautions and getting regular foot checkups, patients with diabetes can avoid more serious complications such as amputation. For more information, consult a Portland diabetes wound care specialist.