Diabetes is a condition that affects a LOT of us New Zealanders. Five years ago, it was estimated that it affected around 300,000 of us (both diagnosed and undiagnosed), and undoubtedly this figure has continued to grow since then. When most people think diabetes, they think of blood sugar levels. But what does this have to do with the feet and why is your Podiatrist so important when it comes to diabetes? Let us explain.
Feet are often the first to suffer the consequences of diabetes
That’s right. Being the furthest away from the heart (with the longest blood vessels and nerves to reach the ends of the feet), the feet are prone to incurring damage from the effects of diabetes. There are two main ways that diabetes affects your feet:
Abnormal sensations (and loss of sensation) in the feet
Decreased blood supply to the feet
Abnormal sensations in the feet
These unusual sensations can range from burning, numbness, tingling, pins and needles, mixing up hot and cold or sharp and dull, and more. This occurs because of the damage to the nerves that occurs in diabetes changes the way your body interprets physical sensations.
The most dangerous of these, is just the absence of feeling in the feet. Here, we’re not talking about a numbness, but a complete absence where you don’t even realise that you’ve lost the ability to feel. The risk here is that you sustain an injury – like a cut or standing on something sharp, and then are unable to feel it. If you can’t feel it, then you don’t know to move your foot and clean/dress the wound, and it becomes vulnerable to infection and ulceration. If infections linger long enough untreated, they can spread to the bone. This is known as osteomyelitis. Osteomyelitis is very serious and difficult to treat, and is a major reason that diabetic ulceration is the leading cause of amputation worldwide, other than from trauma/accidents.
And when the blood supply decreases
Damage to the blood vessels as a result of diabetes also means less blood to the feet. Decreased circulation means your ability to repair wounds and damage decreases – and so does the ability to fight off the aforementioned infections.
So what difference does a foot check make?
A diabetic foot screening examines your sensation and circulation around your feet to determine your risk level for serious complications. Aside from having your feet thoroughly examined by a professional for any signs that something is going wrong, you’ll know exactly what’s going on, what stage you’re at (as the effects of diabetes gets progressively worse), what you should be looking out for and what you do if something goes wrong.
It may seem like something so simple and routine, but the consequences of not having your feet assessed regularly if you have diabetes can be severe, so just like your regular dental appointment, make sure to put it in the calendar.
If you have diabetes and are worried about your feet, we’d love to help! You can get in touch by calling us on 09 523 2333 or booking online here.