If you have diabetes, it’s important to be aware of the potential health complications that can arise. One common problem with diabetes is that you may experience discolored toenails among other foot problems. In this article, we will discuss the causes of toenail discoloration when you have diabetes and what causes it. Keep reading to find out what other problems can occur with diabetic feet.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, is a chronic disease that affects how your body breaks down and uses blood sugar, also called glucose. Glucose is the main source of energy for your cells and tissues and when diabetes disrupts the process, it can cause a range of symptoms and health problems. This happens when your blood glucose levels are too high for too long, a condition called hyperglycemia.
There are three types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that destroys the cells in your pancreas that produce insulin which is a hormone that helps your body use glucose for energy. Without insulin, your blood sugar levels will become too high and you will develop diabetic ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes and it occurs when your body can’t use insulin properly or make enough insulin to keep your blood sugar levels normal. Gestational diabetes is high blood sugar that develops during pregnancy in some women and usually disappears after birth.
Type 1 diabetes is commonly diagnosed in children, while type 2 diabetes is most often diagnosed in adults. However, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can develop at any age and can lead to a range of symptoms and health problems.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
The main symptom of diabetes is frequent urination followed by extreme thirst and hunger. Other symptoms include:
- Blurry vision
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss
- Skin problems
- Sores, ulcers, or wounds that don’t heal
- Frequent infections such as gum disease, vaginal yeast infections, and skin infections
If you have these undiagnosed symptoms we recommend that you see your doctor or health care provider.
Can diabetes affect your toenails?
Yes, diabetes can affect your toenails. One of the earliest signs of diabetic peripheral neuropathy is a change in toenail color due to a fungal nail infection. The nails may become yellow, yellow-brown, light brown, or even black. You need to be extra careful when it comes to foot infections because letting an infection go untreated could lead to serious complications like amputation. Fungal infections are very hard to treat and you should see your doctor as soon as you notice any discoloration which may cover either part of the nail or the entire nail.
Are there other reasons your toenails may be turning black?
Yes, black toenails can be caused by a number of other things such as blunt trauma, melanoma (which is a type of skin cancer), heart disease, kidney disease, and anemia. For example, if you bruise your nail bed by dropping a heavy object on your foot then your toenail can turn blue, purple, or even black because of the trauma and not due to diabetes. If you have black toenails and are not sure why they are black, it is best to see your doctor for a diagnosis.
What causes diabetes to change nail color?
The reason there are so many foot problems with diabetes is twofold. First, the changes in color may be caused by a condition called diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can occur in people with diabetes. This nerve damage can cause a number of problems, including changes in sensation, pain, and difficulty walking which can lead to not knowing you have hurt or cut your foot before it becomes infected. One of the earliest signs of diabetic peripheral neuropathy is a change in toenail color due to fungal infections. The second reason is that diabetes can cause poor circulation, which is called peripheral vascular disease when it pertains to your arms and legs. This means that your feet may not get the oxygen and nutrients due to poor blood flow and any injuries can take much longer to heal on your extremities which can invite infection.
What other problems can diabetes cause your feet?
In addition to changes in toenail color, diabetes can also cause a number of other problems with your feet. These issues can include:
Athlete’s foot is a common fungal infection that causes itchiness, redness, and burning. The foot fungus that causes athlete’s foot thrives in warm, moist environments such as public showers, locker rooms, and swimming pools. If you have diabetes, you’re at a higher risk of developing athlete’s foot because the condition can cause dry skin.
A bunion is a common foot deformity of the big toe that causes it to point inward toward the second toe. This is usually caused by wearing ill-fitting shoes, especially high-heeled shoes that force the toes into a narrow area. Bunions can be painful and make it difficult to walk or wear shoes.
Corns and calluses
Corns are small, hard growths that form on the top or sides of your toes. Calluses are thicker, rougher patches of skin that can form on the bottom of your feet. Both corns and calluses can be painful.
Diabetic foot ulcers
A diabetic foot ulcer is a medical condition where an open sore or wound occurs on the bottom of your feet. If left untreated, diabetic foot ulcers can lead to infection and even amputation.
Blisters are small pockets of fluid that form on your skin. They can be caused by friction, burns, infections, or pressure from shoes. Blisters can be painful and make it difficult to walk.
Diabetes can cause your skin to become dry and cracked which can make you more susceptible to infections.
Hammertoes are a condition in which the toes curl downward and inward due to a weakened muscle. They can be painful and make it difficult to walk and can lead to calluses, blisters, and sores.
Ingrown nails are a condition in which the nail edges grow into the flesh of the toe. This can be painful and lead to an infected nail. Ingrown nails can usually be treated at home but if they become chronic, surgery may be needed to correct them.
Plantar warts are small, fleshy growths that occur on the bottom of your feet. They can be painful and make it difficult to walk. They often look like calluses although they may have tiny holes or black spots in them. There are several methods for removing them and we recommend that you talk to your doctor or a foot doctor known as a podiatrist for the best treatment option.
If you have diabetes and have any of these foot complications, it is important to see a doctor for evaluation and treatment. Many of these conditions can be treated with simple measures, but some may require more advanced care. Early diagnosis and medical treatment are key in preventing further damage and complications. For these reasons, it is important to practice proper foot care and get a foot exam for diagnosis should you have any of these problems.
Diabetes is a disease that causes your body to have high blood sugar levels due to your body producing too much insulin or your cells not using it properly. There are many symptoms of diabetes with the most common being extreme thirst or hunger, and frequent urination. Diabetes can also cause a number of problems with your feet, including changes in toenail color, athlete’s foot, bunions, corns, and calluses. Diabetic foot ulcers can also lead to infection and even amputation if left untreated. If you have diabetes and are experiencing any problems with your feet, it is important to see a doctor for evaluation and treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment are key in preventing further damage and complications and keeping your feet healthy.
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Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Erik Rivera and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera.
Owner, entrepreneur, and consumer health enthusiast.