How can I avoid foot problems if I have diabetes?

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William Lee Dubois
Endocrinologist

Get in the habit of paying attention to your feet before you need to. Check your feet every night. Run your hands over your feet every night when you get into bed. Look at them. If you are too hefty to see your feet get yourself a mirror. If you get into this habit before you lose any feeling (no guarantee you will, but in this case an ounce of prevention can save you a couple of pounds of leg) if you have any trouble later you will be in the habit of checking; you’ll find trouble if it happens.

The Born-Again Diabetic: The handbook to help you get your diabetes in control (again)

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The Born-Again Diabetic: The handbook to help you get your diabetes in control (again)

Much has been written about the explosion of diabetes on the world stage the 4,000 new cases a day we all know about, the millions of people unaware they have diabetes. But another epidemic is...

If you have diabetes, you can protect your feet by following these four rules:

  1. Wear shoes that fit well: Shop for shoes at the end of the day when your feet are larger. Have your feet measured for the best fit. Also, look at your feet right after you take your shoes off. Redness can mean that your shoes don't fit well.
  2. Inspect your skin: Check your skin, especially your feet, every day for redness, swelling, cuts, scratches, drainage or blisters. Try using a mirror if you can't see the bottoms or sides of your feet. Or, have someone else look at your feet for you. Any opening in your skin can lead to infection. Make an appointment with your doctor right away if you have an opening on your foot that is red or is not healing. Do not wait.
  3. Don't go barefoot: Always wear shoes or slippers to protect your feet. You can also wear water shoes in the pool or at the beach to prevent an injury to your foot.
  4. Take care of your nails: Trim your toenails when they are soft from bathing. Cut them to the shape of the toe and not too short. File the edges with an emery board. This will reduce your chance of having an ingrown toenail. Ingrown toenails can quickly become infected.
Dr. James P. Ioli, DPM
Podiatrist (Foot Specialist)

Recognizing the devastating impact of diabetic foot problems, the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons updated its guidelines for caring for people with diabetes to place more of an emphasis on prevention. The following guidelines can help you take your own steps to protect yourself if you have diabetes:

Know your feet. Take a good look every day to see if you've cut or bruised your feet without realizing it. Pay attention to any growths or discoloration. If your foot swells or changes in color, for example, it could be a sign of a fractured bone or poor circulation.

Practice good foot hygiene. Wash your feet every day. Dry them thoroughly, especially between the toes. Moisturize any dry skin (but not between your toes), or dust with foot powder to keep your feet dry. Cut the nails straight across to avoid ingrown toenails, which can lead to infection. However, be careful when wielding the scissors: if you've lost sensation in your feet, or if your nails have grown harder, consider having your nails trimmed professionally.

Protect your feet. Wear shoes with ample cushioning and socks that protect against friction. Make sure your shoes fit by having your foot measured every time you buy a new pair. Shoes cause a large number of all diabetic complications that lead to amputation. Avoid high heels or shoes with pointy toes. If you must wear such shoes for dressy occasions, try to limit the amount of time they are on your feet.

Practice overall good health. If you need to, try to lose weight. Every extra pound increases the pressure on your feet. Don't smoke—smoking impairs circulation. Exercise regularly to improve circulation.

Drink in moderation. Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol, which can impair nerves already at risk because of diabetes. Government health agencies and the American Medical Association define moderate drinking as no more than two standard drinks per day (or no more than 14 per week) for men under age 65 and one drink per day (no more than seven per week) for women and men 65 and older. (A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.)

Learn when to seek help. If you develop any of the foot problems described in this report, it's vital that you see a doctor. Don't try to treat yourself at home—you may end up making the problem worse. To prevent problems from developing, see a foot care specialist at least once a year to have your feet evaluated.

Stacy Wiegman, PharmD
Pharmacy Specialist

To avoid foot problems if you have diabetes, examine your feet every day and get a thorough foot exam from your doctor at least once a year. See your doctor if you notice any cuts, blisters, ingrown toenails, corns or calluses, changes in color or shape, or heightened or reduced sensitivity in your feet. Wash your feet every day and apply a moisturizer to the tops and bottoms of your feet to keep the skin smooth and soft. Protect your feet by wearing socks and shoes rather than going barefoot. Finally, taking good care of yourself overall will also help you keep your feet healthy. Don't smoke, exercise regularly and try to keep your blood glucose levels under control. Talk to your doctor about other ways to prevent foot problems when you have diabetes.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.