It is important to be aware of the potential for foot problems if you have diabetes as you are at a higher risk for them.
One common complication is diabetic foot infection, which can often lead to amputation if not treated properly.
In this article, we will discuss diabetic foot infections and other foot problems caused by diabetes.
We will also review the symptoms and treatment options for diabetic foot infections while also providing health tips on ways to prevent any diabetic foot problems.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition that affects your body’s ability to produce or use insulin.
Insulin is a hormone that helps your cells take in your blood sugar called glucose and turn it into energy.
When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t produce enough insulin, which is called type 1 diabetes, or it can not effectively use the insulin it does produce, which is called type 2 diabetes.
All forms of diabetes can cause elevated blood sugar levels, which can lead to many serious health problems if left untreated such as heart disease, kidney damage, and diabetic foot infections.
How can diabetes cause foot infections?
One of the most common complications of diabetes is diabetic neuropathy, which is a condition that causes nerve damage.
A symptom of diabetic neuropathy, also called diabetic peripheral neuropathy, is a loss of sensation in your feet making them more susceptible to injury and infection due to cuts, blisters, or ulcers going unnoticed.
Diabetic neuropathy can also cause changes in the shape of your feet and toes, making them more likely to rub against your shoes and develop calluses, corns, or blisters that can also get infected.
Another reason for an increase in diabetic foot infections is peripheral artery disease which is a condition that occurs when plaque builds up in your arteries and reduces blood flow to your extremities.
Peripheral artery disease, also known as peripheral arterial disease or peripheral vascular disease, can cause wounds on your feet to heal more slowly, making them more susceptible to infection too.
Although there are symptoms of peripheral artery disease such as numbness, skin discoloration, or erectile dysfunction for men, it usually goes unnoticed so we will focus on diabetic neuropathy.
What are the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy?
Some common symptoms of diabetic neuropathy include numbness or a loss of sensation in the affected area. Others include pain, tingling, or burning sensations.
Diabetic neuropathy most commonly affects the feet and legs but can also affect the hands and arms. You may also experience cramps, muscle weakness, and sensitivity to touch too.
Diabetic neuropathy can also cause cuts, sores, or diabetic foot ulcers which create a higher risk for infections and bone or joint damage too.
If you have any of these symptoms and have diabetes, please seek medical attention from your doctor, podiatrist (foot doctor), or health care provider.
Are there any other risk factors for diabetic foot problems?
There are other risk factors for diabetic foot problems in addition to diabetic neuropathy and peripheral artery disease.
These include difficulty regulating your blood sugar levels over long periods, diabetes-related kidney damage, obesity, and how long you have had diabetes.
If you have any of these risk factors, please be sure to discuss them with your healthcare provider.
How are diabetic foot conditions diagnosed?
Most diabetic foot conditions are diagnosed through a combination of a physical examination, medical history, and imaging tests.
Your doctor will start by asking you questions about your symptoms and when they started. You will also be asked about your medical history, including whether you have diabetes and what treatments you have been using to manage your blood glucose levels.
Your doctor will then perform a physical examination of your feet, looking for any signs of diabetic foot infections or other problems. They may also order X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, or other imaging tests to get a better look at the structures inside your feet.
A sample of skin or discharge may also be taken and sent to a lab to test for infection too.
Once they have all the information they need, your doctor will be able to diagnose your condition and recommend treatment options.
What are the treatment options for diabetic foot infections?
The treatment options for diabetic foot infections will vary depending on the severity of your infection.
If you have a mild infection, your doctor may recommend that you soak your feet in warm water several times a day and apply over-the-counter antibiotic ointment or cream to the affected area.
They may also prescribe oral antibiotics if they think it is necessary for your wound care.
If you have a more severe infection, you may need to be hospitalized so that you can receive intravenous (IV) antibiotic therapy and have your wound treated by a surgeon.
Your doctor may also drain the wound of any discharge or pus or perform surgical debridement which is a surgical treatment where necrotic tissue (dead tissue) or infected tissue is removed from the wound.
Bandages will also be used to keep the wound clean and they will have to be changed regularly for the duration of treatment.
Washing your wound at least daily will also be needed before putting on new bandages. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may also be prescribed where you place the infected area in a chamber with pure oxygen and very high pressure to promote healing.
Finally, your doctor may also tell you to keep pressure off of your feet which is called offloading. The reason for this is to let the diabetic foot ulcer heal and you may need to use crutches, a wheelchair, special boots, prescription footwear, or casts to do so.
Besides debridement, other surgical procedures can include skin grafts where healthy skin is transplanted to the wound site.
You may also have to have a surgical procedure where the infected bone is shaved off too. In some cases, diabetic foot infections can lead to amputation if they are not treated quickly and effectively.
Diabetes is the leading cause of extremity amputation (major amputation) although you may need only the removal of a toe or toes (minor amputation) to stop the spread of infection or gangrene which is the death of tissue due to poor blood flow.
If you have diabetic foot infections, it is important to seek medical attention right away and follow your doctor’s treatment plan to prevent any complications.
Are there any other diabetic foot problems to be aware of?
Yes, in addition to diabetic foot ulcers and infections, other foot conditions can be caused by diabetes and these include:
- Fungal infections of the nails or skin such as athlete’s foot
- Plantar warts
- Hammertoe, which is a foot deformity of the toe where it is bent at the joint
- Corns and calluses or thickened areas of skin that develop from rubbing or pressure
- Dry cracked skin
- Diabetic blisters also called bullosis diabeticorum or diabetic bullae
- Ingrown toenails
They will be able to diagnose the problem and recommend treatment options.
Are there any ways to prevent diabetic foot problems?
Yes, there are several things you can do to prevent diabetic foot problems and keep your feet healthy. One way is to monitor your blood glucose levels regularly to ensure they are in the target range.
You also need to control your blood sugar levels as much as possible which can be done by following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and taking any medication that has been prescribed by your doctor.
A healthy diet, exercising regularly, and taking any medications prescribed by your doctor for cholesterol and blood pressure control too will also help.
You need to also have a comprehensive foot exam at least once a year by a healthcare professional which is important because they can check for any early signs of diabetic foot problems and treat them before they become severe.
Another way to prevent diabetic foot problems is to practice proper foot care every day for healthy feet.
These preventative measures include washing your feet with mild soap and water and drying them thoroughly, especially between the toes, and applying moisturizing lotion to prevent dry skin and cracks.
You can also apply talcum powder or cornstarch between the toes to soak up any moisture when you wear your shoes and socks too.
You need to also inspect your feet daily for any cuts, sores, redness, or swelling and report any changes to your doctor right away.
Trim your toenails regularly by cutting them straight across to avoid ingrown toenails and use a nail file to smooth any rough edges.
Proper footwear is also important and you need to wear shoes that fit well with clean dry socks that you replace daily.
If you do have corns or calluses only remove them with a pumice stone and not any other treatment options. It is also important to never walk barefoot, even indoors, to avoid a foot injury.
Quitting smoking if you smoke will also help with the blood flow to your extremities. Diabetic foot problems can be serious but with proper care, you can prevent them.
Diabetes is a condition that can cause several foot problems, including diabetic foot ulcers and infections. These conditions can lead to further complications if left untreated, so it is important to see your doctor or podiatrist if you notice any changes in your feet.
Treatment usually involves antibiotics and dressings for diabetic foot ulcers, while diabetic foot infections may have the risk of amputation in severe cases.
There are several preventive measures for diabetic foot problems, including monitoring your blood sugar levels, controlling your weight, and practicing proper foot care among others.
If you have any more questions regarding diabetic foot problems, please talk to your doctor, podiatrist, or health care provider.
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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 Jacqueline Hensler and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera.
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