What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a complex condition where the body is not able, or struggles, to maintain healthy levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. Glucose is the main energy source for our bodies and if the level in the blood is too high or low it can cause several health complications.
How does diabetes affect your feet?
People with diabetes are more likely to develop changes to their feet and legs which can put them at higher risk of foot problems. The two main issues are changes to the nerves and poor circulation.
Neuropathy (nerve changes)
There are different types of nerves all throughout the body and their job is to carry messages to and from the brain. People with diabetes may develop nerve changes in their feet, particularly if their blood glucose levels are too high or too low.
Sensory nerves in the feet have the important role of telling the brain if there is pain or injury (e.g. an ingrown toenail, a blister from rubbing or if you have stepped on something sharp). If this pain message does not get to the brain, then you may not realise you have injured yourself and that is when a problem can occur.
When the nerves are changing you may experience strange sensations in the feet such as tingling, burning, numbness or sharp shooting pains. Often these symptoms are worse at night time.
Diabetes, smoking and unhealthy lifestyle choices can cause blood vessels throughout the body to harden and narrow due to plaque formation. These changes reduce the amount of blood flow and can lead to heart attacks and strokes, as well as causing major problems in the feet and legs.
Restricted blood flow to the feet can increase the risk of not healing from injuries like blisters, cuts and sores. When these injuries struggle to heal because of poor circulation and you are more likely to develop infections.
When the circulation is reduced you may notice muscle pain and cramps (particularly in the calf muscle) when exercising, colour or temperature changes, or foot wounds and injuries may not heal or are slow to heal. If significant, or not diagnosed or treated early, poor circulation can lead to ulceration and even amputation.
How to treat diabetic feet?
It is recommended that people with diabetes should be assessed by their podiatrist at least once every 12 months, or more regularly if required for general treatment, or if there are any symptoms or problems. The podiatrists at Adelaide Foot and Ankle will thoroughly assess your feet and ankles. We assess nerves and blood flow and look for any problems in the skin, nails, tendons, ligaments, joints and bones of your feet and ankles. It is important to report any foot, ankle or leg pains or changes to your podiatrist at your appointments so we can detect problems early and help prevent complications.
We can answer any questions you may have and provide education on foot care, footwear and managing injuries or problems. Foot and ankle problems can be avoided if you visit Adelaide Foot and Ankle regularly. We will take good care of your feet and ankles.