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Diabetic Foot Problems

Foot problems are common in people with diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, even the most ordinary foot problems may develop into serious complications, especially if the foot issues are ignored. People with diabetes are at risk for a number of problems associated with the feet. From bunions to dry skin, even a minor problem may result in something serious because of the impact diabetes has on circulation and overall health. Diabetic foot care is very important.

How can diabetes result in foot problems?

Both type I and type 2 diabetes causes damage to peripheral nerves and blood vessels. This damage results in leg and foot problems. Two of the most common conditions resulting from diabetes are peripheral artery disease and peripheral neuropathy. Both are responsible for an increased risk of foot problem development.

Peripheral artery disease refers to the narrowing of the arteries outside the heart and brain. Diabetes is a risk factor for the development of this disease. As a result, there is a decreased delivery of oxygen carried to the lower extremities. Ulcers and tissue death are possible in patients with peripheral artery disease.

Peripheral neuropathy is the damage to the peripheral nerves brought on by diabetes. Symptoms of this condition include limited sensation in the feet and leg nerves. When there is decreased sensation in these areas, it is difficult to perceive pain or feeling due to injury. A person impacted by this disease may step on a sharp object and be unaware of the wound for weeks. The wound may develop into a serious problem.

Signs and symptoms of foot problems in people with diabetes

People with diabetes are at a risk for developing diabetic foot problems. The combination of reduced blood flow to the feet and decreased sensation make a potentially minor problem more serious in patients with diabetes.

Minor foot problems may occur frequently due to the decreased circulation and potential nerve damage. Some of the most common foot problems include:

  • Bunion development accompanied by pain, irritation, and callus formation
  • Fungal infections, brittle nails, and discoloration of the nail and nail bed
  • Ingrown toenails
  • Muscle weakness followed by a bent toe, sometimes referred to as a hammertoe
  • Skin dryness, cracking of the skin – especially around the heel area

Many of these foot problems are minor in those without diabetes. Treatment usually takes care of the issue and prevents the problem from recurring. However, in patients with diabetes, even a minor issue such as an ingrown toenail may result in a more serious and complicated problem.

Due to the lack of sensation or poor circulation, healing may be limited. When a minor foot problem occurs, the diabetic patient may not know. Even a minor cut or wound may develop into something more serious. Reduced blood flow to the feet may result in ulcer development, or worse. In some cases, the foot receives insufficient oxygen and a minor wounds results in tissue death. This problem is known as gangrene, which is potentially life threatening if left untreated. Other serious problems that can develop are cellulitis and sepsis.

People with diabetes should learn how to examine their own feet and recognize the early signs and symptoms of diabetic foot problems. They should also learn what is reasonable to manage at home foot care, how to recognize when to call the doctor, and how to recognize when a problem has become serious enough to seek emergency treatment. For more information or an appointment, please call Shelby Foot & Ankle at (586) 580-3728.