Diabetes and the Feet (8 conditions you need to know)

Different foot problems are quite common in people with diabetes. The feet problems are often a result of constantly high blood regular levels. Prolonged periods of high blood sugar levels may cause nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy) and peripheral vascular disease. These two conditions are the main reasons why people with diabetes develop foot problems.

Most often when you are a person with diabetes, you are more worried about your diet, your blood sugar levels, your exercise routine, but forget about your feet. Taking care of your feet is equally important as it helps you avoid serious foot complication. In fact this topic of diabetes and the feet is such an important topic that needs to be incorporated on all diabetes discussions.

Diabetes feet associated problems

As discussed earlier, there are two main foot problems that occur in people with diabetes: diabetic neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease.

Diabetic neuropathy

Prolonged high levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood can cause damage to the nerves. When this happens, the affected body part loses the ability to sense pain and temperature (hot and cold). Loss of sensation means you may not feel an injury to the affected part. In diabetes, this commonly occurs in the feet. Neuropathy makes it difficult for a person to be aware of anything that affects the feet like tight shoes, infections or any injury to the feet. Imagine walking all day with tight-fitting shoes and not noticing that they are tight!

When you are not able feel any pain on your feet, you are at a higher risk of having blisters (from tight shoes), cuts and even burns. You are at a higher risk of noticing the wounds when they are already infected, which may result in complications as you may seek medical attention late. Late treatment of infected wounds often results in gangrene which may require amputation.

Peripheral Vascular Disease

Uncontrolled blood sugar levels often lead to damage of the blood vessels. They become narrow and hard. The damage reduces blood flow to the affected areas. Poor blood flow can slow down the healing process of any cuts, sores or infections. The risks of complicated infections and gangrene are then increased.

Blood vessels in the hands and feet are more commonly affected. This is referred to as Peripheral Vascular Disease. In people with diabetes, peripheral blood disease is made worse by other things like smoking, uncontrolled hypertension and elevated blood cholesterol levels. If they co-exist with diabetes, peripheral vascular disease ensues faster.

Diabetic neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease often co-exist in a person. This is because both are caused by uncontrolled diabetes. Diabetic neuropathy puts you at risk of injury whilst peripheral vascular disease makes it difficult for the injury to heal well. That is why control of diabetes is as important as taking care of your feet.

Other associated foot problems

Fungal infection

Fungal infection is a common thing in diabetes. This is because fungus thrives well when blood glucose levels are high. The fungus can enter a cracked skin causing redness and itchiness of the area. It can also affect the nail causing a thick, brownish or opaque nails. The fungus will thrive well in closed shoes.

The good news is that fungal infections are treatable. Consult your doctor if you think you may be having fungal infections on your feet.

Foot ulcers

Foot ulcers commonly occur as a result of tight-fitting shoes. It sometimes occurs after a minor break in the skin which is followed by an infection. Foot ulcers is a particularly important topic in people with diabetes because of poor healing secondary to peripheral vascular disease. If not treated well or on time, these ulcers may complicate resulting in loss of the leg. That is why it is important to consult your doctor for every ulcer even if it does not hurt. Proper foot care is very critical for every person with diabetes to ensure that foot ulcers do not go unnoticed.

Calluses

A callus is a thickened and hardened area of skin that builds on an area that is subjected to repeated friction and rubbing. This is the body’s way of protecting the area that is subjected to constant friction. They are frequently seen on the feet, hands and fingers.

Calluses are most commonly caused by tight-fitting shoes. They are commonly seen in people with diabetic neuropathy due to lose of sensation to pain and pressure. If not trimmed, calluses may progress to form an open ulcer.

If you have calluses, never cut them yourself as it may leave an ulcer if you cut too much into the skin. Do not remove them with chemicals; rather consult your doctor for help. Using pumice stone does help remove the dead tissue. Apply moisturizing cream or lotion every time after using the pumice stone.

Corns

A corn is a thickened small and circular area of skin that is caused by pressure or frictions. A corn is similar to a callus but is smaller, harder, and more painful, with more defined center. Corns may have a soft or hard center.

Blisters

Blisters are also common in people with diabetes and are often due to friction in the feet as a result of unnoticed tight-fitting shoes. They are raised areas of skin that are filled with fluid. Always avoid popping a blister as you expose the area underneath to infections. Rather, clean the area with a disinfectant and cover with bandage.

Ingrown toenails

People with diabetes are at a greater risk of complications of ingrown toenails because of the poor blood circulation associated with this condition. Ingrown toenails are common and may cause pain, tenderness and swelling around the toenail. They often caused by wearing shoes that do not fit well or cutting your toenails incorrectly.

Ingrown toenails can be avoided by wearing shoes that fit properly, keeping your nails trimmed properly and frequently inspecting your feet.

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Ensuring healthy feet

Keeping your feet healthy and preventing foot complications is a very critical aspect of care if you have diabetes. You have to be vigilant all the time and ensure that you do the following to take care of your feet:

Inspect your feet every day

Check for cuts, sores, blisters, corns, calluses, ingrown toenails or any other skin or nail changes every day. Always remember to inspect even between the toes. Set a time of the day whereby you know you will do the inspection, it may be every morning or every evening. If you cannot see the bottom of your feet, use a mirror or ask a family member to help you inspect the feet.

Daily inspection helps you spot changes in the feet early because with diabetes you may not feel the pain even when you get injured. Consult your doctor for any changes you have spotted.

Wear shoes all the time

Avoid walking barefoot even when you are indoors. Protect your feet with shoes and socks, or slippers at all times. Do not apply socks too tight as they may restrict blood flow. Always check the inside of your shoes before putting them on, to make sure that there are no objects inside.

Put on well-fitting shoes

This cannot be over stressed. Poorly fitting shoes are the root cause of many diabetes related foot complications. For best fit, try your new shoes at the end of the day when your feet are the largest. Vinyl or plastic shoes are not recommended as they do not stretch. Avoid shoes with high heels or pointed toes. Always wear socks with your shoes.

Wash feet daily

Wash your feet in warm water. Avoid hot water and do not soak your feet because it makes your skin too dry. After washing your feet, dry them completely and apply lotion. Powder between your toes is a better option than lotion as it keeps the skin there dry. Moist skin in between toes tends to be infected easily.

Trim you nails straight across

Always keep your nails short and properly trimmed. Trim them straight across and always smooth each nail with a non-sharp nail file. Do not cut into the corners of your toenail. Get help from a family member or your doctor if you can’t reach or see your feet.

Do not remove corns or calluses yourself

Always talk to your doctor if you develop corns and calluses. Do not try to remove the corn or calluses by yourself or use over-the counter products to remove them as they can burn your skin. These patches can easily turn into ulcers. Only use a pumice stone after bathing to smooth them and apply lotion after using the stone.

Improve blood flow to your feet

Physical activity improves blood flow on your body, so you have to be more physically active. Choose those activities that are easy on your feet like swimming or stretching. Avoid elastic stockings as they may reduce blood flow to the feet.

Stop smoking. Smoking causes your blood vessels to narrow and constrict, therefore lowering blood flow to many organs of the body, including your feet.

Keep your feet away from extreme temperatures

It is possible to burn your feet without noticing when you have nerve damage. That is why it is important to take the right precautions to protect your feet. Always keep your feet away from open fires and heaters. Avoid using hot water bottle on your feet. Always put your shoes on when walking outside in hot or cold weathers.

Get your feet inspected at every doctor’s visit

At every doctor’s visit, let them check your feet for any skin or shape changes. They will also check if you are developing nerve damage or peripheral vascular disease. Also do yearly visit for foot examination. It is the key to preventing foot complications like amputations. Your doctor will also continue to teach you how to take care of your feet.

Final words

It is possible for you to minimize and prevent complications of the feet that are associated with diabetes. These complications should not be taken lightly as they can result with loss of a limb.

When you control your blood sugar levels well and exercise proper foot care, complications become minimal. Always consult your doctor right away when you spot any changes in your feet.

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20 thoughts on “Diabetes and the Feet (8 conditions you need to know)

  1. Thank you for sharing such vital information for diabetics. Foot health is extremely important for diabetics in order to keep full function in both feet. A lot of this is smart for everyone, but especially so for anyone with diabetes and higher risk. 

    I have a friend who has had to have ingrown toenails removed at the doctor’s office. It’s not a comfortable procedure, but fortunately, it can often be prevented with proper pedicures including your tip to trim toenails straight across. Great advice for everyone!!

    1. Hello Aly

      You are very right, foot care is important not just for a person with diabetes, but for everyone. It is indeed a smart choice to take care of your feet to avoid possible complications. Thank you so much for going through the article

  2. Thank you for sharing this very important information.

    Looking after your feet is essential for everyone, but as you indicate, especially for those with diabetes.  While this website is aimed at diabetics, the general information about feet health is very important for everyone.

    I have big problems with cold feet and fungal infections, so it is very relevant for me.

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Thank you so much Geoff. This information is indeed important not just for diabetic people but for everyone. All the best as you practice the recommendations to keep your feet healthy

  3. I was explaining this to my grandma a while ago and I think I could add my 2 cents sharing my simplified version of why diabetes develops foot problems. When a person has diabetes it means they’re at much greater risk of developing foot problems. This is because increased blood glucose, (also known as blood sugar), can damage the sensation in the person’s feet. It can also affect their circulation, which can lead to getting less blood supply to their feet.

  4. Hi Boi. Another great post. Everyone knows diabetes is serious illness, but it may be surprising how many aspects of our lives it may affects. To be fair I didn’t know that it may have so serious impact on foots and there are so many related problems. I really appreciate your detailed and informative article, definitely this is something I will share with my friends and family. Spreading the knowledge about diabetes dangers, and ways to prevent them is something we all should be engaged in.

    1. Hello Cogito

      Thank you so much for going through this article. Knowledge is power and prevention is the key.

  5. I didn’t know that they were these many conditions for the feet that people should watch out for in terms of diabetes. This is certainly something very interesting because I want a new is that you could get some type of sore on your foot but that’s all he knew in the past. I’m glad that I came across your educational post because my grandma has diabetes and I don’t like to ask her directly about the stuff because I don’t want to make her feel uncomfortable

    1. Hi Misael

      Thank you very much for the comment and continue to do a good job of taking care of your grandma. Cheers

  6. True, if you have diabetes, it is especially important to take care of your feet. Since we have such a case in the family, I am also aware of the importance. My aunt has diabetes, and she needs to get her insulin regularly. As a result, she has two distinct leg problems that you list in these 8 conditions. She has a fungal infection and ingrown toenails. Because of this, she regularly visits a pedicurist, who professionally takes care of her feet.
    I read this article with interest because I didn’t know about all these possible foot problems, which are especially pronounced for diabetics. Thanks for all this helpful information.
    Friendly greeting,
    Nina

    1. Hello Nina

      Thank you so much for going through the post and for the comment. This information is indeed not important for every one. Diabetes affects us all in one way or the other. I may not be having the disease but I surely have relatives who have diabetes

  7. Hi, I’ve just read your post about Diabetes and the feet. I find it very important and educative as it relates to my health. Frankly speaking, I never knew that diabetes can cause feet problems. I’m diabetic and as you stated in your post, I spend most of my time worrying about my diet and sugar levels, not my feet. I’m therefore very grateful to have read this and thank you for sharing such important and helpful information with us. I promise to share this information further to save lives.

    1. Hello Kokontala

      I am grateful this post was helpful to you in so many ways. Yes diabetes does affect many areas of the body including the feet, if the diabetes is not well controlled. However, if you take care of your body, you really do not have anything to worry about. All the best as you take care of yourself

  8. I didn’t realize there were so many possible complications when it comes to your feet!

    I’m here because my aunt has diabetes and her feet have given her issues before. I wanted to do something nice for her so I got her a gift card to get a pedicure. Now I’m unsure that this would be okay. Do you think that people with diabetes should avoid pedicures at a salon? Or maybe she could just tell them beforehand so they know to be gentle? I know when I got a pedicure once the lady was very rough. 

    Anyway, thank you for the very detailed and informative breakdown of all the possible foot issues when it comes to diabetes. I want to learn what I can.

    1. Hello Nicole

      Your question is a very important one that probably will need to be covered one day as a topic on it’s own. Getting a pedicure when you have diabetes is something that you need to carefully think about before you decide to do it. This is because there are so many risks involved. That being said it does not necessarily mean that one can not do pedicure only because they are diabetic. Before you do pedicure, make sure that you do not have any infections, ulcers and even neuropathy of the feet. always make sure that you choose to do your pedicure in a clean lace and inform the people that you have diabetes so that they are gentle on your feet. Again, you must never use any sharp instrument on your skin, instead opt for soaking your feet for a few minutes before removing any dead tissue.

  9. An excellent article about caring for your feet if you are a diabetic and it’s also important to care for your feet even if you are not a diabetic. Often you can get hints about how your health is by taking notice of changes in your extremities. Lots of great advice about caring for your feet too, especially well-fitting shoes, wearing socks or shoes indoors, and washing them every day after exercise. This way you can see any changes quickly.

    Thanks for the advice, I will be taking better care of my feet from now on.

    1. Hello Lily

      You are indeed right. Taking care of your feet should not only be for people with diabetes but for everyone. I am glad this post was of great importance to you.

      Cheers, as you continue to take good care of not just your feet, but the rest of your body.

  10. Hi and thanks for sharing this. I think it is fair to say that many of us are living with a borderline diabetic condition just managing to keep the condition under the radar. I have noticed changes in the sensations of my feet in recent years. Some of that stems most noticeably from slipped and compressed discs in the lower back that have resulted in numbness in the left foot. This condition makes it more difficult to spot other problems with my feet in general and my left foot in particular. I must admit though I am somewhat surprised that you advocate always wearing socks and shoes and never going barefoot. I love the sensation of having bare feet especially in warm weather or on the beach.  Nevertheless, I will take your advice to heart and be on the lookout for the conditions you have highlighted. Best regards, Andy

    1. Hello Andy

      Yes, it is important to always have your feet protected from any hard with shoes and socks. This can not be overstressed if you have neuropathy of the feet. You may get injured and not even notice that you are injured. I love that you have taken this advice to avoid any form of complications to your feet. Cheers

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