Diabetes can silently affect feet leading to neuropathy, ulcers and even amputation

·4-min read

When you imagine or witness someone suffering from diabetes, the first few associated concerns that may come to your mind may be long-term side effects like obesity, hypertension, kidney disease, heart disease or even eye diseases. Rarely do people who don't have the disease imagine that diabetes affects the feet too. The fact, as the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out, is that when you actually have diabetes, there's a lot you have to manage, including making healthy meal choices with low glycemic index foods, checking your blood sugar levels regularly, taking your medications on time and exercising.

Common foot problems in diabetes patients

In the mid of all this, you must also take care of your feet and check them every day because people with diabetes are at a very high risk of developing foot problems. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) lists the following as the most common foot problems diabetes patients are at risk of developing.

1. Neuropathy: In the long run, diabetes is known to cause nerve damage and this can affect the nerves in your feet too. This is known as diabetic neuropathy and it can affect your ability to feel anything in the areas affected. Since you may not feel pain, heat, cold or even the prick of a nail in your feet due to neuropathy, it increases your risks of foot injuries and infections. Neuropathy can also deform your feet and impair mobility over time.

2. Calluses and corns: People with diabetes tend to have high-pressure areas under their feet, which is why they are more prone to developing calluses and corns. While it's very important to deal with these calluses and corns, it's even more important to not cut them yourself since that can cause foot ulcers and infections. Ask your doctor to tackle them instead.

3. Foot ulcers: The formation of foot ulcers during diabetes usually develop due to neuropathy progressing further and also causing peripheral arterial disease (PAD). This means that the damage to the nerves progresses to damage to the blood vessels. The ulcers usually appear at the bottom of the big toe or below the ball of the feet. Ignoring them can not only lead to infections but also to amputation of the feet.

4. Peripheral arterial disease: As diabetic neuropathy progresses, it not only causes a lack of sensation in the legs and feet but also starts to damage the blood vessels or the vascular system. This leads to peripheral artery disease and lack of blood circulation in the legs, which not only causes foot ulcers and infections but can also be very painful.

5. Amputation: A study in the International Journal of Diabetes in Developing Countries in 2010 suggests that in India, an estimated 40,000 legs are amputated every year, predominantly because of peripheral sensory neuropathy linked to diabetes. As the nerves in the legs become progressively damaged they tend to lose all sensation. PAD is also likely to occur, which damages the vascular system and worsens the condition of the legs, making amputation necessary.

How to keep your feet happy with diabetes

As far as things that can happen to your feet due to diabetes are concerned, amputation is pretty much the final and most extreme step. It is crucial to prevent all of the aforementioned problems, which lead to that scenario. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), checking your feet every day when you wake up and before you go to sleep is the best way to handle all the problems associated with diabetic feet. Even if you can't prevent them by doing this, you can at least notice any foot-related problems on time and contact your doctor immediately. The NIH suggests that you check your feet from top to bottom every day and use a mirror or someone's help if you need to. You should look for problems like the following:

  • Swelling

  • Blisters, especially fluid-filled ones

  • Cuts, sores or red spots

  • Ingrown toenails

  • Corns or calluses

  • Foot warts

  • Athlete's foot

  • Inexplicable warm spots

For more information, read our article on Diabetic neuropathy.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India's first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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