Diabetes can have a devastating impact on your feet because of the way it affects your sensation and your circulation. This means your ability to feel, and the blood flow to your feet.
These changes pose a serious risk for developing wounds, infections and ulcerations on the feet – which is why it’s so important to pay special attention to your feet. It’s also why a foot affected by diabetes is referred to as the ‘high-risk’ foot.
The symptoms you feel may start small, but will progressively worsen over time. This means that your foot care and advice must be specific to the symptoms you’re currently experiencing at this point time. This is why diabetic foot health checks are recommended annually, to keep you informed about how to best manage your foot health.
Over time, you may start to notice changes in circulation and sensation. These changes can then contribute to complications like ulcers.
Diabetes causes damage to the nerves in your feet and legs. As the nerves are responsible for our ability to feel, our ability to distinguish feelings may worsen, be mixed up, or may be lost altogether. This is called peripheral neuropathy, and can affect both the feet and hands. Symptoms include:
Ultimately, you may completely lose sensation in the feet. Unlike the blanket-like feeling of numbness, any feeling in the affected areas of the foot will be completely absent. This means you may not even realise that the sensation isn’t there. This is the most dangerous symptom as it renders you vulnerable to being unable to detect injuries like cuts or burns. If you can’t feel it, you don’t know you need to take action to treat and manage it. This injury may easily be something small like a pin, nail, or splinter. Any wound that results will be susceptible to infection, and if continued to be left untreated, the area may ulcerate.
Diabetes also causes damage to the blood vessels, impairing the blood flow to the feet. Poorer blood supply to the feet means less oxygen and nutrients are delivered to a wound within a set timeframe. This means that the body will take longer to heal any cuts and breaks in the skin. If blood flow to the feet is impaired, you may experience:
When paired with an increased likelihood for undetected cuts and wounds from a diminished ability to feel, this is a very dangerous combination. It poses a significant risk of infection, ulceration, and at its worst, amputation. Diabetes is currently the leading cause of lower limb amputation, other than traumatic injuries.
While type 1 diabetes is present at birth, type 2 diabetes can develop at any point throughout your life. It occurs when your cells become resistant to a hormone called insulin. Insulin works to direct sugar out of the bloodstream and into the cells. This means that sugar can build up in the bloodstream, damaging your vessels.
While diabetes requires a whole-body management plan, you can help manage the effects on your feet by:
Our podiatrists are qualified to help you manage the symptoms of diabetes on your feet, so you stay in control of your foot health. If you have diabetes, we recommend an annual assessment of your sensation and circulation, so you know the status of your foot health, and your risks. We give you advice and management strategies to help reduce the risk of complications and achieve the optimum outcomes for your feet.
During your assessment, we check every surface of your foot, including between the toes, to look for warning signs or changes from your last appointment. We’ll also help manage any wounds that develop. We may recommend diabetic-friendly footwear, and use devices like orthotics to help you feel more comfortable on your feet while reducing your injury risk.
Diabetic foot disease is the leading cause of lower limb amputation aside from accidents. The key to amputation prevention is early recognition and foot screening of those at risk. Those individuals considered to be at high risk are those who exhibit one or more of these six characteristics: