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Diabetic Foot

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One of the most dangerous things a diabetic has to take care of is the feet. The feet of a patient with high blood sugar levels is vulnerable to a dangerous condition called diabetic foot. If one does not take care of their feet, it could lead to amputation of a foot or even the leg. Let’s take a look at diabetic foot and its prevention in the following paragraphs.

What is a Diabetic Foot?

People with high blood sugar levels for a long period can lead to severe complications that includes diabetic foot. This is a general term used to explain different foot complications arising due to diabetes. These foot complications that come under the term diabetic foot include:

  • Foot ulcers that never heal
  • Foot infection that keeps getting worse
  • Neuropathic osteoarthropathy

The main cause of diabetic foot is peripheral artery disease (PAD) and peripheral neuropathy. These conditions increase the risk of diabetic foot in diabetics. Diabetes affects the blood supply to the feet and leads to peripheral neuropathy. Thus, any injury or infection to the feet does not heal as normally as it should.

A small blister, cut, bunion, corns, fungal infection, ingrown toenails, hammertoes, calluses, dry skin and other minor foot problem in diabetics can turn into a major emergency before one realizes it. The infection spreads so quickly, that the patient does not realize it due to neuropathy. In neuropathy, one experiences lack of sensation, and thus, never realizes the problem in getting out of hand.

Symptoms of Diabetic Foot

It is a very important one keeps a watch on their feet every day. Any signs of injury, infection or deformity should be brought to the notice of their doctor immediately. Some of the symptoms of diabetic foot include:

  • Burning, tingling sensation in the feet
  • Painful feet
  • Loss of sensation of touch, heat, cold
  • Loss of hair on toes, feet and lower limbs
  • Change of color of toenails, or thickening of toe nails
  • Presence of blisters, ulcers, sores, corns, ingrown toenails, etc.
  • Changes in the shape or color of the foot
  • Black skin due to dead tissue (gangrene), leading to a medical emergency

Causes of Diabetic Foot

There are a number of reasons that lead to diabetic foot. These include:

  • Neuropathy, a condition that causes one to loss or lessen the ability to feel pain, cold, heat, etc. Thus, one never realizes their foot has been injured due to lack of pain. A tiny stone in the shoe or blister due to shoe bite, often go unnoticed. The tiny injury due to such minor incidents does not heal as it should and gets infected further. Soon, it leads to other complications that includes gangrene.
  • Diabetes can make the skin of the foot very dry. This dry skin develops cracks and peels off. Soon, bacterial infections settle in the cracks leading to complications.
  • Calluses and corns are common observation on the feet of a diabetic. Thus, when these calluses and corn are not trimmed, they may turn into open sores. These ulcers develop infection and lead to further complications.
  • Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) leads to reduced blood supply to the feet. This causes the foot to have reduced capability to fight infections and heal faster. Also, the blood vessels within the feet become narrow and harden. Thus, leading to different complications that includes intermittent claudication.
  • Smoking can increase the damage to the foot by disrupting the healing process. It is one of the major causes of severe foot infection and resulting in amputations. Stop smoking if you have diabetes and want to prevent losing a foot or leg.

Diagnosis of Diabetic Foot

The doctor will examine your feet thoroughly and observe any infections, injuries or changes in the foot. If he suspects diabetic foot, he may conduct a WBC count and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR). The blood work may even include a Gram stain and culture to determine the type of infection. Diabetic foot generally leads to a medical emergency, thus, make sure you visit the doctor immediately when you observe any changes to your feet.

Treatment for Diabetic Foot

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Diabetic foot can lead to life-threatening problems. The doctor may try an antibiotic treatment for deep-skin and soft-tissue infections. When the condition is severe, surgical management is the only option. The affected toe, foot or leg will have to be amputated to prevent the spread of infection and further damage, including loss of life.

Complications of Diabetic Foot

Diabetic foot can lead to a number of complications that includes:

  • Sores, ingrown toenails, corns, calluses, ulcers
  • Infection of the feet leading to skin and tissue death, that is, gangrene

Diabetic Foot Care

In order to prevent diabetic foot, it is important for all diabetics to follow some foot care tips. This will help contain any problem in the initial stage before it turns into a full blown medical emergency.

Foot Care Tips

  • Wash your feet with mild soap daily. This will keep your feet clean and prevent any fungal or bacterial infections from infecting your feet.
  • Pat dry the skin, do not rub the skin of the feet
  • Apply petroleum jelly or other moisturizing lotion on your feet to prevent them from drying and developing cracks

Daily Feet Examination

  • Examine your feet daily. Look for any injury, infection, boil, sore, ulcer, cuts, etc. on the top and bottom of the feet
  • Check for cracked and dry skin
  • Touch your feet and check for increased warmth or tenderness in any area of the feet
  • If there is a blister or sore on your feet, make sure you change your footwear
  • Check between each toe, heel, outer edges of the foot and the ball of the foot

Choose Comfortable Footwear

  • It is very important you choose comfortable footwear that does not cause blisters and puts extra pressure on your feet and legs
  • Avoid wearing high heels and pointed shoes
  • Avoid open-toed shoes and sandals. They put your feet at risk for potential injury and infections
  • Wear shoes that protect your feet from moisture, cold, etc.

Any injury no matter how small should be treated. Speak to your doctor right away, if you find any injury or infection that you observe. Being diligent will help prevent complications and avoid the risk factor involve with a diabetic foot. And most important of all, keep your blood sugar levels under control at any cost.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 01, 2015