Diabetes may impact your foot health in a number of ways, and it is important to know how to care for and prevent diabetic foot ulcers. With proper attention, you can prevent issues from happening and care for existing wounds in the best possible manner.
How Does Diabetes Affect Your Feet?
Diabetes can cause circulation issues and nerve damage, which greatly affects the health of your feet. People with diabetes also have a higher risk of infection and muscle or joint issues. Poor circulation prevents oxygen and nutrients from making their way to your feet, which in turn makes it more difficult for blisters, cuts, and other wounds to heal. The longer cuts and other sores take to heal, the higher the risk of infection. Nerve damage in the feet, more commonly known as peripheral neuropathy, may cause a variety of physical sensations, but it may also not be felt at all. While neuropathy often causes pain, tingling, and/or weakness in the feet, it also leads to a loss of feeling in the feet. Both poor circulation and peripheral neuropathy increase your chance of developing a foot ulcer and of that wound becoming infected. Foot ulcers precede the majority of diabetes-related amputations, so proper foot care is essential.
What Are Diabetic Foot Ulcers?
Diabetic foot ulcers are open wounds that are most often found on the bottom of the foot. They may be caused by poor circulation, an unnoticed injury, irritation, or other trauma. Weight, alcohol, and tobacco may also play a role in the development and healing of a foot ulcer. Many patients develop foot ulcers as a result of a lack of feeling in the feet, so pain is not necessarily the first symptom that will alert you to the presence of an ulcer. You may notice drainage on your socks or shoes, swelling, and (if the ulcer has progressed far enough) odor. If you discover a foot ulcer, it is imperative that you consult a podiatrist immediately. The quicker the healing process begins, the lower the odds of infection.
Preventing Diabetic Foot Wounds
There are a number of things you can do to keep your feet healthy and ensure existing injuries heal quickly and properly. For starters, be sure to wear diabetic shoes and socks and that any products you use on your feet are deemed safe for people who have diabetes.
Other preventive measures include:
- Wash your feet with mild soap and warm water daily; be sure to pat them dry instead of rubbing.
- Use foot cream or lotion designed for people who have dry skin and/or diabetes, but only on the top and bottom of your feet. The skin between your toes naturally retains more moisture. Applying lotion between the toes may create too much moisture and cause fungal infections.
- Calluses and dry skin are also a worry, as both can crack, leading to sores or ulcers. Keep an eye on your heels, apply lotions and creams as necessary, and use a pumice stone to keep calluses manageable.
- Exercise is good for poor circulation, stimulating blood flow to the legs and feet. However, you must be sure to wear appropriate shoes and remember not to walk if you have an open wound.
Finally, check your feet regularly. You may need a mirror to see the bottoms of your feet. Since diabetes often leads to decreased sensation in the feet, physically checking for wounds helps protect foot health.
Caring for Diabetic Foot Wounds
If you do have wounds on your feet, it is important to care for them as soon as they are spotted.
- If you have a cut or similar wound on your foot, be sure to clean it daily, apply any prescribed medication, and keep it covered.
- Keep pressure off the area whenever possible, commonly referred to as "off-loading".
- Remove any dead skin around the wound, as it can prolong the healing process and lead to infection.
- Do not walk barefoot.
- All open wounds on your feet must remain covered with a bandage or similar dressing.
- Should you notice a build-up of calluses, corns, or bunions, do not try to remove them yourself. Always consult your podiatrist in this case, as attempting it yourself can lead to more serious injuries and infection.
If you have diabetes or poor circulation, talk to your podiatrist about the best ways to protect your feet.