The effects of diabetes has significant consequences on the feet that carry severe risks to those affected – and unfortunately the awareness of this in New Zealand is often far too low.
Diabetes results in impairment of both the circulation and the nerves, and therefore sensation. Impaired circulation means a poorer blood supply to all the tissues of the feet and an increased healing time, leaving the body vulnerable to infection. Impaired sensation leaves the feet at risk of undetectable damage, which paired with a slow healing rate and the susceptibility to infection puts them at risk of ulceration, further infection and amputation. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of non-traumatic amputation in the world.
Unfortunately, this also means that even common foot problems and tasks can be dangerous for people with diabetes due to these increased vulnerabilities and risks. These include:
Corns and Calluses
Corns and calluses are a thickening of the skin that is caused by repeated pressure or rubbing on the same area. If not treated, corns and calluses can act like stones in the shoe, putting pressure on the tissue underneath them. This pressure can lead to bruising, infection or an ulcer. Paired with diabetes, these are much more difficult to treat and take a lot more time. Removing the corns and calluses safely by a Podiatrist significantly reduces your risks.
Ulcers are an area of skin that is broken and is taking longer than normal to heal. Not getting treatment for your ulcer can result in them increasing in size and developing an infection or gangrene, which in turn can lead to you losing a limb (amputation). This is especially important in diabetes where impaired healing means it can take months (and even longer) for an ulcer to heal. Each day that an ulcer or wound stays open is another day of massive risk to your feet and legs.
Cracked Skin or Fissuring
Cracked heels don’t just crack the hard skin of the foot but also the soft, vulnerable tissue beneath. If there’s a break in the skin – which you may or may not be able to feel if your sensation is impaired – bacteria can to enter the foot and can cause infection which can have serious consequences.
Problem nails can be caused by injury, poor circulation, fungal infection or badly fitting shoes. Ingrown toenails can be painful, red and swollen and can get infected very quickly. Given the toes are the furtherest point away from the heart and where circulation is poorest to anyway, when paired with the complications of diabetes make any toenail problems that much more serious. Letting your Podiatrist care for your nails and skin is that much more important and also gives you a peace of mind that you’re doing the best for not only your feet but your general health.
Diabetic Foot Assessments
Because the effects of diabetes on the feet progressively worsen, having regular diabetic foot assessments check the status of your feet and allow the monitoring of your feet over time, allowing timely advice based on the symptoms you are currently experiencing. We assess your changes in sensation and circulation, alongside your overall foot health.
While the consequences of diabetes on your feet can be severe, they don’t have to be. Checking your feet every day, knowing what to look out for and caring for your feet can greatly minimise the risk of serious foot complications.