What is Diabetes?
More than 5 million people will have Diabetes in the UK by 2025. Diabetes is a condition that develops when the pancreas either fails to produce enough insulin to control the amount of glucose in the blood, or fails to use the insulin properly.
How does Diabetes affect the feet?
Diabetes can reduce the circulation and sensation in your feet, diminishing awareness of changes in temperature, and of pain and touch. A complication of diabetes is reduced circulation (ischaemia), which reduces the blood flow to the peripheral tissues. When combined with poor glucose control, smoking, poor footwear and the feet not being examined, ischaemia can lead to an increased risk of foot lesions and infections, which may result in foot ulceration. In extreme cases foot ulceration may lead to amputation.
Of course, this is not always the case - if noticed in time the ulcer can be treated. The loss of sensation, which often starts at the toes, is known as Peripheral Neuropathy. As a result, foot problems may occur without you being aware of them. Diabetes is likely to affect the body’s ability to heal, so any minor cuts or blisters may turn into a more serious problem if left untreated.
Diabetes can cause nerve damage; this is called Neuropathy. Sensory Neuropathy mainly affects the nerves in the feet and legs. The main danger of sensory neuropathy is loss of feeling in the feet. This means you may be unaware of any injuries or changes to your feet, which, if left untreated, may lead to more serious problems.
Symptoms of Neuropathy
- A tingling sensation, similar to pins and needles, in the toes, feet or lower leg
- Numbness in the feet
- Pain - a burning sensation, pins and needles or shooting pains in the feet, which can extend into the legs
- Cracked & dry heels
- High arch on feet and/or clawing of the toes
What can your Podiatrist do for you?
A diabetic assessment will be carried out. This will involve noting your HbA1c (Glucose control), checking your blood supply, testing the feeling in your feet, checking for any other symptoms, and giving advice on any changes in your lifestyle that are required.
Both feet will be examined for:
- Condition of the toe nails
- Dry, flaky skin
- Evidence of fungal infection
- Colour of the skin on the feet and legs
- Abnormal skin lesions
- Corns, calluses and any other deformities
- Evidence of infection - ie. pain or lack of pain, numbness, inflammation or cellulitis (an infection of the skin and subcutaneous tissue)
- Sensitivity to touch
Your podiatrist will then carry out the necessary treatment, which may be carried out over repeated visits, and will also give advice on how you can look after your feet. Your podiatrist will also examine your shoes and give you advice on the correct type of footwear you should wear.
What are the signs to look for?
It is a good idea to get into the habit of checking your feet regularly for any signs of redness, injury or any unusual changes - for example, if the foot feels warmer than usual, this may be an indication of infection. Also look for any new swelling or a change in colour.
If you have diabetes, you should see your podiatrist at least once a year for a check-up, or more frequently if advised to.
If your sugar levels have increased or are out of the ordinary for you, this can be a sign of an underlying and undetected foot problem.
Are there ways of preventing further damage?
- Wear shoes that fit properly
- Carefully clean and dress any wounds on the feet
- Ensure your blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure levels are healthy in accordance with your GP
- Do not smoke
- Avoid baths that are too hot
- Do not keep your feet too close to a source of heat, such as a fire, hot water bottle or electric blanket. It is easy to burn the feet if you have loss of sensation
- Exercise, eat healthily and lose any excess weight
- Always follow advice from your Podiatrist and GP