It’s estimated that more than 30 million Americans now live with diabetes, whether they know it or not. That’s almost 10 percent of the general population.
Among seniors, the numbers are even higher—25 percent.
If not managed properly, diabetes can have disastrous consequences for your overall health. This can include your eyes, kidneys, pancreas and other organs, but it also very much includes your feet.
In fact, foot problems are among the most common and, ultimately, most debilitating possible complications of diabetes. From nerve pain and deformity to ulcers, infections, and in some cases even amputations, serious diabetic foot complications can lead to drastic and sometimes permanent consequences to your long-term health.
That’s why it’s so important to have a diabetic foot care plan and meet regularly with a diabetic foot specialist like Dr. Viedra Elison.
How Diabetes Damages Feet
There are two major components that, together, are the underlying factors for most diabetic foot complications. They are:
- Poor circulation. Excessive blood sugar causes inflammation that, in turn, reduces your quality of circulation—especially in the small blood vessels of your feet and legs. Reduced circulation makes it harder for your body to repair wounds, fight infections, and provide your feet with the essential oxygen and nutrients they need.
- Peripheral neuropathy. For the same reasons, the sensitive and delicate peripheral nerves of the feet and legs may also become damaged over time. At first this may cause intermittent tingling and pain. As time goes on, the pain gets worse—until being replaced by complete numbness. It’s estimated that over half of people diagnosed with diabetes will eventually develop some form of peripheral neuropathy.
This combination of factors can be devastating. With neuropathy, you are less likely to notice if you’ve suffered a cut or injury. And with poor circulation, your body may not be able to heal that injury fast enough to prevent an infection.
As a result, even relatively minor cuts, ingrown toenails, popped blisters, and other injuries could escalate into a diabetic wound if not addressed promptly and correctly.
Diabetic Wounds & Wound Care
If you have diabetes, any and every foot wound is a potentially very serious matter.
Diabetic wounds that do not heal properly are by far the leading cause of non-traumatic lower limb amputations in America today, at around 100,000 per year. And according to research from the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, the 5-year mortality rate after an amputation is worse than many extremely malignant conditions, including several forms of cancer.
Preventing diabetic wounds to the greatest extent possible—and seeking immediate care if you do develop one—is extremely critical. For many people, it is literally a matter of life or death.
Wound care consists of the following key elements:
- Debridement. The wound needs to be cleaned of all foreign particles and dead skin, which can impair the healing process.
- Medication and dressing. We will treat the wound with any necessary medications or antibiotics, then dress it to keep out agents of infection. We may also employ advanced techniques such as laser therapy to help accelerate the healing process.
- Offloading. It is important that you do not place unnecessary weight or pressure on the wound as it heals. Depending on your situation, this may require the use of a walking boot, crutches, or a wheelchair for a time.
- Follow-up. We will set a number of follow-up appointments with you to make sure your ulcer is healing on schedule, and that you haven’t developed any infections in the meantime.
All these elements work together to help heal the wound as quickly as possible, which in turn reduces your risk of developing an infection (and by extension, your risk of ultimately needing an amputation).
Building Your Diabetic Foot Care Plan
Fortunately, it isn’t all bad news.
While diabetes can clearly have disastrous ramifications for your foot, ankle, and whole-body health, almost all of the worst and most debilitating potential complications are preventable. You just need a solid plan, and the discipline to see it through.
Fortunately, you have the full team of specialists here at Fixing Feet Institute to help you. We provide comprehensive diabetic foot care, from simple preventative measures and coaching all the way to emergency wound care services.
Here’s what a diabetic foot care plan might look like for you:
- Schedule regular podiatric checkups. We recommend a comprehensive diabetic foot exam at least once per year, even if you have no prior history of foot problems. We can test your circulation and nerve health for early warning signs, fix any minor issues before they become major ones, and provide recommended preventative care options to help keep your feet as healthy as possible.
- Check your own feet daily. A five-minute self-exam, performed at least once per day, will help ensure you never go too long without noticing an emerging foot problem. We are happy to speak with you at your appointment about the best ways to do this.
- Protect your feet. We recommend those with diabetes wear socks and shoes whenever they are out and about—even indoors or at their own home. We can also help determine whether you might benefit from diabetic socks, diabetic shoes, or other tools designed to reduce the risk of injury.
- Manage your diabetes. In almost every case, sustained high levels of sugar in the blood is the root cause of diabetic complications like peripheral neuropathy and poor circulation. The better you can keep this in control, the slower the rate of damage and the lower your risk of complications. We encourage you to work closely with your general practitioner or a metabolic specialist to help you keep your diabetes as controlled as possible.
- Contact us IMMEDIATELY if you have any problems. This is why you do your daily foot checks. A cut that won’t heal, ingrown toenails, or other problems that don’t seem to improve after a couple of days (even if they do not cause pain) should lead to a call to our office.
In addition to preventative care and advanced wound care services, we are also one of the country’s leading clinics when it comes to treatment of peripheral neuropathy and peripheral nerve issues. At Fixing Feet Institute, we will do everything in our power to help you keep your feet as healthy as possible for as long as possible, using advanced, evidence-based techniques and technology to do so.
If you have any questions about diabetic foot care, need to schedule a routine diabetic foot exam, or need us to look at an ongoing foot concern, please call our office today at (623) 584-5556. Diabetic foot care is a very high priority, and we will be sure to see you as soon as possible.