The hallmarks of diabetes – high blood sugar and insulin resistance – affect your body in numerous ways. The disease raises your risk for heart disease, stroke, vision loss, kidney failure, and more. It may also cause poor circulation, leading to nerve damage. This is especially dangerous to your feet, as their distance from your heart makes them more prone to circulatory issues. This post explains the importance of diabetic foot care to help protect your feet.
How Diabetes Affects Your Feet
People who have diabetes are at elevated risk for neuropathy (nerve damage) and foot ulcers.
Diabetic neuropathy affects the majority of diabetes patients. It is caused by elevated levels of fats and sugars in the blood. There are four types of diabetic neuropathy:
- Peripheral: Usually affects the feet and legs, but may also appear in the hands and arms
- Autonomic: Affects the nerves controlling your internal organs
- Focal: Describes single nerve damage, typically in the head, torso, hand, or leg
- Proximal: A rare type of nerve damage affecting the hip, thigh, or buttocks, typically only on one side
Peripheral neuropathy is the most common form. It may cause a tingling sensation or pain in the feet. However, you may also not feel any pain at all. And that can be especially dangerous, since pain is how your body tells you that something is wrong.
Blisters, cuts, and sores may form without you realizing it. And when you also have poor circulation, those injuries can’t heal properly.
Poor blood flow often causes diabetic foot wounds to become infected. Left untreated, this can cause gangrene and eventually lead to amputation of a toe, foot, or even part of your leg.
What Raises Your Risk of Diabetic Foot Problems?
Anyone who has diabetes is at risk of developing foot problems. However, you are at increased risk if you:
- Have uncontrolled high blood sugar levels
- Are overweight
- Have high blood pressure
- Are over the age of 60
- Have high cholesterol
- Are not physically active
- Do not follow a healthy diet
Your risk also increases the longer you have diabetes.
How to Lower Your Risk
The best way to lower your risk of diabetic foot ulcers and other issues is to address each of the risks listed above.
If you smoke, stop. Smoking inflicts a lot of damage on your circulatory system. Nicotine causes blood vessels to narrow, making it even harder for your smoke-damaged heart to pump blood through them.
Work with your doctor to control blood sugar levels and weight. In addition to medications to control your diabetes, ask your doctor for recommendations regarding diet and exercise. And be active every day, not just once or twice a week. Even a 10-minute walk around the block helps improve circulation.
Diabetic Foot Care Tips to Protect Your Feet
Check your feet every day, including tops, bottoms, and between the toes.
You may need a mirror or the help of a friend or family member to see the bottom of your foot. Look for cuts, blisters, swelling, redness, corns, and calluses. Also look for changes to the skin and toenails. Checking your feet daily allows you to find injuries quickly but also sets a baseline for what “normal” looks like for your feet. That makes it much easier to spot anything that isn’t normal.
Always wear shoes or slippers, even inside the house.
Wear socks with your shoes and check them for pebbles or anything that might harm your feet. That includes the shoe lining, which should be smooth to avoid injuring the foot.
Wear quality shoes that fit well.
Always wear shoes designed for the activity and make sure they fit well. Try them on before buying, preferably shopping toward the end of the day when feet are usually a little larger. If you must buy online, first try to find the shoes you want in a brick and mortar store where you can try them on. Walk around in them to ensure they’re comfortable. Don’t buy shoes expecting them to feel better once they’re “broken in.” Shoes should feel comfortable as soon as you put them on.
Wash your feet daily with warm water.
Do not use hot water to wash your feet and avoid soaking them. After washing, dry them completely before applying lotion. Moisturize the tops and bottoms of your feet to prevent skin cracking. However, avoid the areas between the toes. Applying moisturizer there can lead to fungal infections.
Trim toenails straight across.
You can smooth edges with an emery board, but never file or cut nails to a curve. A podiatrist (foot doctor) can show you how to trim your toenails safely to avoid ingrown nails.
Have your feet checked by your doctor.
Ask your doctor to inspect your feet during your yearly wellness exam as well as during any checkups. And if you ever notice any abnormalities during your daily foot inspections, schedule an appointment with your doctor.
See a doctor to remove corns and calluses.
If you have any nerve damage and try to remove corns or calluses, you can easily cut too deeply. Instead, visit your primary physician or a podiatrist. Also, avoid over-the-counter products as these may cause burns.
Perform light to moderate aerobic activities.
Walking, biking, and swimming are great aerobic activities that help improve blood flow and overall health. Talk to your doctor first to determine which activities you can do safely.
Improve blood flow to your feet.
Help improve your circulation by elevating your feet while sitting. And try not to sit for long stretches without moving. Every hour, stand up, walk around, or wiggle your toes for a few minutes to keep the blood moving through your feet and legs.
How Can Medicare Help?
Maintaining a healthy weight is a key component of overall health, but it’s especially important for patients who have diabetes. If you have a BMI of 30 or higher, Part B covers obesity behavioral therapy, including screenings and counseling when services are provided by a primary provider who accepts assignment.
If you have diabetes or kidney disease, Part B also covers medical nutrition therapy services. You must receive a referral from your primary physician to take advantage of this benefit. Do you have questions about your Medicare coverage? The licensed agents at Medicare Solutions can help. Just call toll-free 855-350-8101 to get started.