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  • Writer's pictureMy Family Podiatry

How Does Diabetes Affect The Feet?

Updated: Apr 1

With diabetes affecting a significant portion of the Australian population—figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare highlight a concerning upward trend—it's critical to understand its impact on foot health. This chronic condition disrupts the body's sugar management, leading to elevated blood glucose levels. Such imbalances can severely affect foot health, potentially leading to life-threatening issues.

What is Diabetes?

There are two main types of diabetes, both of which can lead to foot issues:

Type 1 Diabetes: Type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed in childhood or early adolescence. It is an autoimmune condition which leaves the body unable to produce insulin, a hormone necessary for controlling your blood sugars. Individuals with Type 1 Diabetes require regular insulin replacement therapies to survive.

Type 2 Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes is more commonly diagnosed later in life though cases of younger individuals developing this condition have been reported. Type 2 diabetes results from a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors which lead to the body no longer being sensitive to insulin. This results in excessively elevated blood sugar levels and may require medications to control. Type 2 diabetes can be effectively controlled through modification of diet and lifestyle.

Image of a person using a monitor to measure their blood sugar level through a prick on the finger
Diabetic measuring blood glucose

How Does Diabetes Impacts The Feet?

Due to their location at the extremity of the body, feet often show the first signs of uncontrolled diabetes. Elevated blood sugar levels affect the feet in three primary ways:

  1. Hardening of arteries: Diabetes can lead to hardening of the smooth muscle around arteries. When the arteries are less elastic, they cannot transport an adequate supply of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the extremities, resulting in poor circulation, cold feet, and prolonged wound healing times.

  2. Peripheral Neuropathy: This refers to a deterioration of nerve function in the extremities. It often starts with altered sensations, such as tingling or the illusion of wearing socks when none are worn, and can progress to a total loss of sensation. This numbness is particularly dangerous because it can prevent the detection of injuries, leading to severe complications. For example, patients may not notice wounds, sometimes even failing to realise they've stepped on something sharp until seeing a trail of blood.

  3. Stiffening of connective tissues: Increased sugar levels in the blood can bind to connective tissues, stiffening them and making them more brittle. This increases the likelihood of injuries such as tendon tears and ligament ruptures.

The combination of neuropathy and poor circulation is especially dangerous. An undetected injury, coupled with slow healing and compromised immunity due to reduced blood flow, significantly increases the risk of infections. In severe cases, these conditions can lead to hospitalisation, amputation, or even death.

What Can Be Done At Home To Care For Diabetic Feet?

Taking an active role in managing your diabetes is essential for maintaining long-term health, especially when it comes to your feet. Here are some effective strategies for preventing foot complications from home.

  1. Maintain stable blood sugar levels: Keep your blood sugar within recommended ranges by avoiding foods that cause spikes, engaging in regular exercise, and adhering to your prescribed medication regimen. Stable blood sugar levels help avert the complications previously discussed.

  2. Inspect your feet daily: It's important to check the bottoms of your feet every day for any signs of cuts, bruises, or pressure sores. If reaching your feet is difficult, use a mirror placed on the floor or ask a family member to help. Early detection of potential problems can prevent serious complications.

  3. Wear shoes to protect your feet: Always wear closed-toe shoes to guard against injuries. Before putting on your shoes, inspect them to ensure they are clean and free from pebbles or other objects that could cause harm.

  4. Engage with healthcare professionals: Discussing your diabetes management and foot care with your general practitioner (GP) and other healthcare providers such as a podiatrist is crucial. A collaborative approach to health can significantly reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications, helping you lead a healthier life.

How Can A Podiatrist Help?

Seeing a podiatrist can be crucial for those experiencing foot-related issues, especially for individuals with diabetes. Here's how a podiatrist can assist:

When to See a Podiatrist:

We highly recommend scheduling an appointment if you encounter:

  • Persistent foot pain.

  • Any wounds on your feet.

  • Hard, thickened skin areas.

  • Feelings of numbness, cramping, or sharp, shooting pains in your feet and legs.

What Happens During a Diabetic Foot Check?

  • Medical History Review: A thorough examination of your medical history, including medications, allergies, and previous foot problems.

  • Footwear Evaluation: Bring your most frequently worn shoes for assessment.

  • Arterial and Nervous System Assessment: Examination of blood flow and nerve function in your feet.

  • Skin and Nail Examination: Checking for any conditions that may require attention.

  • Joint and Muscle Evaluation: Analysis of joint mobility, muscle strength, and the source of any foot pain.

After the Assessment, Your Podiatrist Will:

  • Discuss your potential risk for foot complications in line with diabetic foot care guidelines and how ongoing podiatry care can help manage your foot health.

  • Offer advice on foot care practices to follow at home.

  • Make personalised footwear recommendations to support your daily activities.

  • Coordinate with your medical team by providing them with reports, typically sent to your general practitioner.

  • Arrange for further imaging or specialist referrals if needed.

Support Through Chronic Disease Management Plans:

Diabetes is a long-term health condition. Those affected may qualify for Chronic Disease Management (CDM) and Enhanced Primary Care (EPC) plans through their GP. At My Family Podiatry, we offer bulk billing for appointments to individuals with a valid EPC, helping to ensure comprehensive foot care is accessible.

If you or someone in your family is a diabetic, it is important you receive regular podiatry assessments. For a detailed and thorough assessment, contact My Family Podiatry on 07 3088 6116 or click through the link below to book an appointment today.

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