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Diabetes foot care

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

If you have diabetes, it's essential to make foot care part of your daily routine.

People with diabetes can develop complications before they realise they even have a problem.

When feet and legs have nerve damage, a small cut or wound can go unnoticed. That's why it's critical to check for problems before they get infected and lead to serious complications - such as gangrene or amputation.

Diabetes UK says around 80% of the more than 7,000 diabetes-related amputations in England every year are preventable.

Make sure your diabetes specialist examines your feet during each check-up. An annual foot examination should be performed which should include an inspection of the skin - they may check for redness or warmth of the skin. The examination is also to check for pulses and the temperature of your feet and an assessment of sensation of the foot.

How can diabetes affect my feet?

Diabetes can cause two main problems that can affect your feet:

  • Diabetic neuropathy. Uncontrolled diabetes can damage your nerves. If you have damaged nerves in your legs and feet, you might not feel heat, cold, or pain. This lack of feeling is called "sensory diabetic neuropathy." If you do not feel a cut or sore on your foot because of neuropathy, the cut could get worse and become infected. The muscles of the foot may not function properly because the nerves that make the muscles work are damaged. This could cause the foot to not align properly and create too much pressure in one area of the foot. It is estimated that up to 10% of people with diabetes will develop foot ulcers. Foot ulcers occur because of nerve damage and peripheral vascular disease.
  • Peripheral vascular disease. Diabetes also affects the flow of blood. Without good blood flow, it takes longer for a sore or cut to heal. Poor blood flow in the arms and legs is called "peripheral vascular disease." Peripheral vascular disease is a circulation disorder that affects blood vessels away from the heart. If you have an infection that will not heal because of poor blood flow, you are at risk of developing ulcers or gangrene (the death of tissue due to a lack of blood).

Tips for regular diabetes foot care

Daily care

  • Wash and dry your feet with mild soap and warm water. Dry your feet thoroughly, especially between the toes, an area more prone to fungal infections. Use lotion on your feet to prevent cracking, but don't put the lotion between your toes.
  • Do not soak feet, or you'll risk infection if the skin begins to break down. If you have nerve damage, take care with water temperature. You risk burning your skin if you can't feel that the water is too hot.

Weekly care

  • Trim toenails straight across with a nail clipper. You can prevent ingrown toenails if you don't round the corners of the nails or cut down the sides. Smooth the nails with an emery board.
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