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5 Ways Diabetics Can Take Care of Their Feet

If you have diabetes, you know how important it is to watch what you eat and monitor your blood sugar. But that’s not the only thing you need to be taking care of – the health of your feet can be at stake.

“Long-term diabetes and poorly controlled diabetes both can affect the insulation of your nerves,” said Dr. Ronald Renzi, a podiatrist from Abington-Jefferson Health. “If there’s a lack of insulation on the nerve or the insulation on the nerve gets destroyed, you lose the ability for those nerves to function properly.”

The reason this can happen to diabetics’ feet is from chronically having too much glucose, or sugar, in your blood. Too much glucose can lead to diabetic nerve damage, or peripheral neuropathy, causing numbness in your feet. Having too much glucose in your system, over time, can also cause reduced blood flow to your feet, depriving them of oxygen and nutrients.

“For diabetics, if they lose protective sensations in their feet, they can step on a tack and not feel it – and that can lead to problems,” Dr. Renzi said.

Here’s what diabetics should do to protect their feet.

1. Regularly check your feet

“If you’re a diabetic with a loss of sensation, check your feet every day,” Dr. Renzi advised. “Some diabetics still have good sensation in their feet. In those cases, check maybe once a week to see if anything looks different.”

When you check your feet, look for anything that looks different from three or four days prior, including red areas, blue areas, anything different in color, size or swelling, he said.

2. Alert your doctor

“If almost anything is a little bit different than before, even if the signs are subtle, you need to check with a doctor,” Dr. Renzi said.

No change on your feet is too small to alert your doctor about – catching something early before it can pose the risk of infection is key. Diabetics develop infections faster than others and have a harder time fighting them.

“We want to treat something before it becomes a wound and gets infected,” Dr. Renzi said. “The loss of circulation and [diabetics’] compromised immune system makes it really hard to get an infection under control.”

It may even be difficult to treat an infection with antibiotics – reduced blood flow to their feet makes it difficult for an antibiotic to reach them.

3. Keep your feet clean and dry

Part of your daily foot care regimen should include washing your feet with soap and warm water.

“Keeping your feet clean keeps away any bacteria that can lead to a wound infection,” he said.

Just as important as cleaning your feet is thoroughly drying them.

“Because moisture can collect between the toes, it can promote fungus growth,” Dr. Renzi said. “Fungus can lead to athlete’s foot and infection.”

4. Wear proper fitting shoes and socks

Anytime you get new shoes, have your doctor check them out.

“You need to have well-fitting shoes that support your arches and have good padding– nothing that causes blisters or rubbing,” Dr. Renzi said, adding that rubbing and blisters can develop into wounds and get infected.

“Wear socks that don’t have a heavy seam – sometimes a heavy seam can rub,” he said.

5. Stay active

According to Dr. Renzi, reduction or loss in circulation to the feet is one of the most serious problems diabetics face.

“It’s the loss of circulation in your legs that can lead to total limb amputation,” he said. “They need to counteract [circulation loss] by staying active.”

Do this by regularly walking or exercising – it not only slows down the effect diabetes has on nerves, but it can also help keep your blood sugar down.

“Walk for a good 20 to 25 minutes every day to get your blood flowing,” he said.

For a referral to an Abington - Jefferson Health podiatrist, please call 215-481-MEDI (6334) or search our online directory.

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Diabetes: What You Should Know

  • 5 Ways Diabetics Can Take Care of Their Feet