For a non-diabetic, we often don’t give much thought to how we care for our feet. Yet for a diabetic, even trimming the toenails can be challenging. HEALTH speaks to Chief Podiatrist Michelle Champlin about some common foot problems in diabetics and the correct ways to deal with them.
WHAT TO CHECK FOR
It is very important for diabetics to check their feet daily for any callouses, hard skin, redness, bruising, cuts, or abrasion, explains Champlin. “With lowered sensation to the feet, it is common to not know there is a problem with the skin. It is only upon visual inspection that can a problem be seen,” she says, and in fact, a biannual assessment of the foot health with a podiatrist is recommended.
According to Champlin, diabetic foot problems are common. She tells, “If the blood glucose levels are elevated, it will reduce the sensitivity to the feet. Elevated blood glucose can also cause stiffening of the small blood vessels to the feet.” So when the feet demand more blood supply, the vessels cannot cope and the feet become starved of a good supply of blood. Moreover, it can also change the pH balance of the skin which can encourage fungal growth on the feet.
She suggests the best way to avoid problems with the feet is by regulating the blood-glucose levels. This in turn, will reduce the problems with the nerves and circulation to the feet. “By visiting a podiatrist and having a routine foot circulation and sensory test, any potential problem can be detected and treated to enable optimal health of the feet in a relatively short amount of time,” she explains.
Champlin advises a daily inspection of the feet and if there are some areas of the feet that are difficult to see, check with a family member to help you. Also, take great care with shoes. “Accommodative footwear that does not squeeze the foot is advised – preferably laced shoes that can be loosened and tightened, depending on any foot swelling,” she says, and also, good quality socks are available for diabetics made of cotton, wool, and even bamboo fibers that allow the feet to breathe.
A diabetic that has elevated blood glucose for too long will not notice the first symptoms; which is numbness to the toes. By the time the diabetic can feel a sensory deficit, Champlin points out that the problems are normally quite progressed. “Having a diabetic sensory and circulatory test with the podiatrist every six months will pick up any issues that have started without being noticeable to the patient,” she tells. “Also, hot feet especially at night time when sleeping, should be a red flag and changes in moisture such as dryness, should warrant a visit to the podiatrist.”
TIPS TO HELP CARE FOR YOUR FEET
Optimal care begins at home; take a daily walk of 45 minutes to keep the body healthy. Undergo routine checks with a diabetic specialist to ensure the balance of the diabetes is within normal ranges. Undergo an annual/bi-annual visit for eye and foot examination with an ophthalmologist and podiatrist. Invest in comfortable shoes and socks. Do a daily visual inspection of the feet, paying attention to the toenails, under the foot, and the outside border.