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Tips to minimise the risk of foot problems with diabetes

Raised blood sugar levels can cause problems with sensation and circulation so those with diabetes are more likely to suffer from problems with their feet.

Foot problems associated with diabetes

There are two specific complications of diabetes that can affect the feet:

  • peripheral arterial disease – a common condition resulting in poor circulation in the feet
  • peripheral neuropathy – nerve damage in the feet.

Symptoms for these conditions include:

  • the condition of the skin may change resulting in cracks or splits in the feet which may be open to infection
  • a lack of sensation in the feet which may mean a simple injury such as a shoe rubbing will not be felt
  • the shape of the feet may change – thickened skin may form in areas that experience pressure or rubbing and the pressure may cause damage to underlying tissue

There is an unfortunate statistic that states around 10% of diabetics may develop a foot ulcer.  Ulcers are wounds or sores on the skin that are slow to heal, can extend to deeper tissue and are prone to becoming infected.  In some cases, the affected area has to be surgically removed – this can include amputation.

Tips to minimise the risk of foot problems with diabetes

There are self-help ways you can minimise the risk of developing foot problems.  These include:

  • quitting smoking – as smoking affects blood circulation
  • keeping a check on your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and most importantly keeping your blood glucose under control
  • monitoring your feet every day to check for any change in colour, swelling, breaks in the skin, pain or loss of feeling
  • bathing and cleaning your feet every day with warm water and soap
  • drying your feet thoroughly, especially between the toes
  • moisturising your feet every day – but wipe away any excess lotion in between the toes
  • ensuring your toenails are a comfortable length and cut straight across – use an emery board if there are any sharp edges
  • regularly visiting a specialist in foot care for treatment for corns and calluses
  • wearing shoes and socks that fit well, support your feet and keep them dry and warm
  • not walking barefoot

Along with your diabetes diagnosis you would have been offered a yearly foot care check by your doctor, nurse or podiatrist.

What happens at an annual foot care check?

Your healthcare professional will examine your feet to assess circulation, sensation, skin and toenail condition along with any other problems such as ulcers.  They may also advise you on appropriate footwear.

If your healthcare professional believes that you are at risk of developing foot problems then you may be referred to:

  • a podiatrist
  • an orthoptist
  • a diabetologist – who specialises in complications of the lower limb
  • a surgeon – who specialises in diabetic foot problems
  • a nurse specialist in diabetes and dressing foot wounds
  • a tissue viability nurse

These healthcare professionals will follow up with you more frequently.

If you are concerned about your feet and you have diabetes then we would advise that you make an appointment to see your GP as soon as possible.

Learn more on how to check your blood pressure here

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