Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
195 Little Albany Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08903-2681
Managing diabetes does not just mean keeping your blood sugar levels in an acceptable range. It also means taking steps toward preventing health complications that can occur with diabetes. Diabetes can put you at risk for foot complications like foot ulcers, which, if not treated early, may lead to amputation. However, with proper attention and care you may be able to prevent such problems.
You may be wondering, “How are diabetes and foot problems related?”
With diabetes, sugar levels build up in your bloodstream either because your body does not make enough insulin or because your body is resistant to insulin. Insulin is important because it helps move sugar from your bloodstream to your cells where it can be used for energy.
Diabetes can lead to decreased amounts of blood flow to your legs and feet. If you smoke, this can worsen blood flow problems. Poor blood flow to your limbs is called peripheral arterial disease (PAD). Diabetes can also damage nerves, a condition known as diabetic neuropathy. With damaged nerves, you may not be able to feel pain, heat, or cold.
Having both poor blood flow and damaged nerves in your legs and feet can make it difficult for you to notice foot conditions that may arise, as well as prevent these conditions from healing properly.
For instance, what if you developed a blister or cut on your foot? Since your nerves are damaged, you may not feel the injured area to notice and treat it. Because of this, the injured area becomes infected. Since blood flow to your legs and feet is decreased, the white blood cells that fight infection may not get to your limbs fast enough, and the infection may heal slowly or not heal at all. This can lead to worsening problems like a spreading infection or gangrene.
It is essential that you routinely check your feet for any foot conditions or injuries. Doing so will allow you to spot problems before they worsen. If it is hard for you to bend down to check your feet, try using a mirror or ask someone to check for you. Here are some common foot problems to look out for:
If you do notice any foot problems, tell your doctor right away. Doing so will ensure that you get proper treatment and prevent infection.
In addition to routinely checking your feet, here are other things you can do to avoid foot problems:
Paying attention to your feet, as well as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as not smoking, eating healthy, and exercising, will decrease the likelihood of dangerous infections, keeping you more in control of your diabetes and its complications.
American Diabetes Association
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Canadian Diabetes Association
Diabetic foot ulcer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 16, 2016. Accessed June 14, 2016.
Foot care American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/foot-complications/foot-care.html. Accessed June 14, 2016.
Prevent diabetes problems: Keep your feet healthy. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Diabetes/prevent-diabetes-problems/Pages/keep-feet-healthy.aspx. Updated February 2014. Accessed June 14, 2016.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 6/14/2016