If you have diabetes, you may experience swollen feet from time to time. This is because diabetes can cause a condition called peripheral edema which can be uncomfortable and painful. Peripheral edema is the swelling of the extremities, such as the feet and ankles. In this article, we will discuss what diabetes is, what are the symptoms of diabetes and peripheral edema, how diabetes causes peripheral edema, and its other causes too. We will also provide tips on how you can help reduce swelling in your feet to improve your quality of life and get back to being your old self.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, is a condition where there is too much glucose, or sugar, in the blood. This happens when your body does not make enough insulin or when the body cannot use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps your cells take in glucose to turn it into energy. When your blood sugar becomes too high, it can damage your body over time and even lead to death if left untreated.
Diabetes is actually a group of diseases that cause your blood sugar levels to rise for different reasons and there are three types of it. They include:
Type 1 diabetes is caused by your immune system attacking the insulin-making cells in your pancreas. Eventually, your body will stop producing it and you will have to supplement it with insulin therapy through injections or an insulin pump. Most people are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a child, teen, or young adult and it can also be called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes even though it can occur at any age. This form of diabetes is not preventable.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common type and it’s caused by your body not using insulin properly. This is called insulin resistance where your cells don’t use glucose as they should because they stop utilizing the insulin in your body. Over time, you may need to start taking diabetes medication to help control your blood sugar levels but it can often be managed by making healthy lifestyle choices. Most people with type 2 diabetes are diagnosed as adults which is why it used to be called adult-onset diabetes even though you can get it at any age. This form of diabetes is usually preventable as people with type 2 diabetes are often overweight or have a family history of diabetes, but not in all cases.
Gestational diabetes only happens during pregnancy and usually goes away after the baby is born. Women with gestational diabetes have high blood glucose levels during pregnancy because their bodies can’t make enough insulin to meet the extra demands of pregnancy. Although it usually goes away after birth, it does increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later on in life.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
There are a lot of different diabetes symptoms but some are more common than others. The most common symptoms include feeling very thirsty, frequent urination, and being hungry all the time even if you’ve just eaten. Other common symptoms include fatigue, weight loss even if you have been eating more, blurry vision or eye damage, frequent infections, and cuts or wounds that heal slowly. If diabetes is not managed well it can lead to more serious symptoms like diabetic ketoacidosis, where your blood becomes too acidic due to not enough insulin being available, or diabetic coma, which are both life-threatening conditions.
What is peripheral edema?
Peripheral edema is swelling caused by a buildup of fluid in your tissues. It most often affects your feet, ankles, and legs but can also occur in your hands, arms, or face. The swelling is usually a sign that something is wrong and you should see a doctor if it does not go away within a day or two.
What are the symptoms of peripheral edema?
The most common symptom of peripheral edema is swelling in your feet, ankles, and legs. You may also experience aching or heaviness in these areas, tightness or throbbing in your veins, stretched skin, and a shiny complexion or discoloration of the skin. Edema can also cause your skin to pit, or leave an indentation, after being touched but this is not always the case. If you have any of these symptoms it’s important to see a doctor because peripheral edema can be a sign of a more serious condition such as diabetes, alcoholism, or congestive heart failure.
How does diabetes cause peripheral edema?
There are a few different ways that diabetes can lead to peripheral edema and all are due to complications and risk factors from diabetes. Some of the most common causes of it include heart disease, blood circulation problems, kidney disease, liver disease, and diabetes increases your risk for all of them. Certain diabetes medications can also cause peripheral edema so always make sure to talk to your doctor about the side effects of what you are taking.
What are other causes of peripheral edema?
Diabetes is not always the cause of peripheral edema. In fact, there are a number of other causes, including:
- Medications, including birth control pills
- Congestive heart failure
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Lack of physical activity
- Sitting or standing for a long time
- Hot weather
- Unhealthy diet
Many times the cause is not known but it’s important to see a doctor if you have any of the symptoms listed above because peripheral edema can be a sign of a more serious condition.
What can I do to help my swollen feet if I have peripheral edema?
If you have diabetes-related peripheral edema there are a few things that you can do to help the condition. First, make sure that your diabetes is under control and that your blood sugar levels are where they should be. This will help to prevent any further damage to your veins and arteries and improve blood flow. Next, talk to your doctor about changing your diabetes medication if you are taking one that is causing swelling. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids, especially water, as dehydration can makK swelling worse. You should also avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time and try to get up and move around every hour or so. If you’re going to be in hot weather, keep cool by using air conditioning or wearing loose, comfortable clothing. You should also avoid salt as it can cause your body to retain fluid. Other ways to treat swollen feet include:
- Keeping your legs elevated
- Wearing compression socks
- Exercising regularly
- Wearing shoes that are comfortable
If you have peripheral edema that is not related to diabetes, the best thing that you can do is to find out what is causing it and treat the underlying condition. If you’re pregnant, make sure to talk to your doctor about the best way to deal with the swelling. In general, though, you should follow the same advice as for diabetes-related edema. If you are experiencing any symptoms of peripheral edema, it is important to see a foot doctor or health care provider as soon as possible as it could be a sign of a more serious condition.
Diabetes is a disease that has a number of symptoms including swollen ankles and feet, also known as peripheral edema. The swelling may be caused by your diabetes medication or common complications from diabetes such as heart disease, kidney disease, or liver disease among others. However, there are also many other causes for it. Should you be suffering from peripheral edema, there are a number of treatment options including keeping your legs elevated, eating healthy with a low sodium diet, and exercising regularly but talk to your doctor for the best treatment options for you. If you have any more questions please talk to your doctor or health professional.
References and Sources:
Harvard Health Publishing
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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.
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