By Melissa Lockwood, DPM, Heartland Foot and Ankle Associates
November is National Diabetes Month — a time to look at this common disease caused by elevated glucose (sugar) levels in the blood stream. When we say “common,” we certainly mean it!
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports one out of every ten adult Americans as being diabetic, along with another 84+ million as being “prediabetic,” which means having blood sugar levels that are elevated, just not quite to the point of full-blown diabetes yet. If you do the math — or just trust our calculations — approximately one out of every three adults in our country are either currently affected by the disease, or have the potential to develop it in the near future. I am excited for the opportunity to help treat patients who are affected by this disease in the Bloomington-Normal community.
Diabetes causes widespread problems throughout the body, many stemming from systemic damage. Or, to put it more simply, too much sugar is really bad for your health. Excessive amounts of glucose contribute to impaired function of the immune, nervous, and circulatory systems. As a result of this, issues in the lower limbs — even ones that start out as being fairly minor — can quickly escalate into serious medical complications. Charcot foot and diabetic ulcers are two such complications that increase the risk for amputation and can even become life-threatening. In fact, the mortality rate for diabetic ulcers is greater than the rates for several cancers, including breast, colon, and prostate.
Diabetics are more prone to various foot problems than those without diabetes due to the development of painful nerve damage called peripheral neuropathy. Neuropathy can affect your entire body, but the legs and feet are most often affected and most likely to develop serious health complications. In neuropathy, the signal from your brain to your feet slows down due to the high blood sugar. The damage to your nerves can cause the loss of feeling in your feet, making it difficult to detect extreme temperatures and pain as easily, or readily, as someone who does not have diabetes. As a result, you could sustain a serious cut or wound and not even notice your foot is injured until an infection begins.
An injury can occur without your knowledge if feet are numb to pain, and compromised blood flow means that injury will be waiting quite a while before it receives the healing nutrients it needs. The longer it goes unnoticed and the longer it takes to heal, the higher the chances are for infection, ulceration, and dangerous consequences — including amputation. However, many diabetic foot problems can be prevented in some measure with improved blood sugar control and a strengthened immune system.
Following are some important ways to reduce your risk of severe foot problems developing from diabetes.
- Examine your feet daily. Any signs of changes, such as broken skin or ulcers should be brought to the attention of your podiatrist immediately.
- Wash your feet daily with warm water and mild soap. After washing, make sure you dry your feet thoroughly, especially in-between the toes. You may also apply non-irritating moisturizer to prevent cracks and to keep your feet smooth.
- Avoid ingrown toenails, which can get infected. If you are unable to cut your toenails safely, ask your podiatrist for professional assistance. Never attempt to cut your own bunions or corns as this can lead to infection as well.
- Do not smoke as it reduces blood flow to your feet.
- Manage your blood sugar levels with diet, exercise, and good lifestyle choices.
- Never walk barefoot — even inside. Stepping on anything, even if it just causes a scratch, can cause an injury that can lead to infection
It is also important to protect your feet with diabetic socks and shoes. Proper diabetic footwear can produce the following outcomes:
- Relieve areas of excessive pressure. Too much pressure in concentrated areas can result in ulceration (skin breakdown). Diabetic footwear can redistribute forces in a more natural manner, thereby reducing the risk of issues developing.
- Reduce shock and shear. One way to keep diabetic feet safe is to reduce the amount of shock (vertical pressure) and shear (horizontal friction) experienced. Diabetic socks and shoes are designed to reduce these respective forces.
- Accommodate, stabilize, and support deformities. Many deformities need to be stabilized to both avoid further damage and relieve pain when diabetes is in the picture. We can help to protect the foot by making sure you have the shoes you need.
- Limit motion of joints. Controlling the range of motion for certain joints in the foot can help to decrease inflammation, relieve pain, and result in a more stable and functional foot.
Diabetes is serious, especially when your feet are involved. Your podiatrist plays a critical role in the prevention and management of complications of the foot in diabetics. See your podiatrist for regular foot examinations in order to maintain healthy feet and if you notice anything out of the ordinary, call immediately to nip problems in the bud before they get out of control.
To ask a question, make an appointment, or get more information on any foot or ankle problem, contact Dr. Lockwood at Heartland Foot and Ankle Associates, 309-661-9975, or visit their website at www.HeartlandFootAndAnkle.com. Their office is located at 10 Heartland Dr., Suite B in Bloomington.