Foot Care and Diabetes: What You Most Need to Know
Expert answers to 5 common questions.
When you’re living with diabetes, what you can’t feel can still hurt you. This is especially true when it comes to your feet and the nerve damage you may be suffering. If you’ve just learned you have diabetes, you should arrange to meet with a podiatrist and talk about the importance of foot care, say experts Erika M. Schwartz, DPM, a spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) and Dr. David G. Armstrong, a podiatric surgeon and professor at the University of Arizona’s Department of Surgery. Here, help for sidestepping the foot pain complications of diabetes.
Q. When it comes to foot care, what is the first thing someone just diagnosed with diabetes should know?
Besides building a relationship with a podiatrist, a person with diabetes should know that most ulcerations and amputations are preventable, but proper foot care is essential.
Q. What is actually happening when you lose sensation in your feet?
Neuropathy describes the loss of sensation that arises from nerve damage. Over time, diabetes leads to what’s called a “loss of protective sensation,” or LOPS and because it occurs so slowly, many people don’t notice it. According to the National Diabetes Clearing House, about 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy, which can occur in other organ systems, not just the feet.
Q. How can I protect myself from nerve damage?
Neuropathies are the result of several factors, the largest being exposure to high blood glucose levels. Keeping blood sugar levels low is the best protection against nerve damage in a diabetic person. “There is some compelling emerging evidence that controlling high lipid levels may reduce the progression of neuropathy, too,” says Dr. Armstrong.
Q. Do feet need to be examined everyday?
Examining your feet should be as regular a habit as combing your hair or brushing your teeth. Dr. Armstrong recommends replacing your bathroom scale with a mirrored one. The Insight Foot Care Scale‘s light-up, angled mirror design simplifies looking at the bottoms and sides of your feet, as well as between the toes. Red flags for foot problems include any swelling or redness, including new areas of discoloration and ingrown toenails. Any break in the skin is reason to contact your podiatrist immediately.
Q. How can I care for my toenails?
If you have neuropathy or symptoms of vascular disease you should leave toenail clipping to your podiatrist. If you are cutting your own toenails, cut straight across the top of the toenail, leaving part of the whiter nail plate, advises Dr. Schwartz who adds, “If you are unable to feel a cut, or don’t have the blood supply required to heal a cut, you likely shouldn’t be cutting your own toenails.”
More Expert Foot Care Tips
- Use caution when shoe shopping — particularly in warmer weather. Neuropathy requires more protective footwear than a flip flop or sandal. Patients with nerve damage should avoid wearing sandals with straps that weave between the toes, or those that place extra pressure against the foot.
- Know the dangers of going barefoot. If you’ve lost protective sensation in your feet, you’re better off keeping them in shoes — even when you’re indoors. “Unfortunately,” Dr. Armstrong says, “up to 85% of steps are taken in and around the home– and most of those are taken barefoot.” Keep doctor-approved shoes in handy places throughout your home. See a list of flip flops that earned a seal of acceptance from a panel of podiatric physicians.
- Work with your endocrinologist to regulate your blood glucose levels. Checking your levels at home as instructed will help you to make better choices throughout the day. Learn more about why blood sugar matters.
- Before you slip your foot into a shoe, check inside for foreign objects. It is a scary reality, but more than a few patients have needed to undergo an amputation brought on by ulcerations from items inside foot wear.
- Slip on some white socks. An open sore on the foot may be easier to spot when you see drainage on the sock, suggests Dr. Schwartz.