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How Your Feet Show Warning Signs of Diabetes

Published November 13, 2018 by

For National Diabetes Prevention Month, podiatrist Dr. Jodie Sengstock shares what to look for if you’re at risk for diabetes.

By Dr. Jodie Sengstock

Cases of persons with diabetes is steadily increasing in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control, there were an estimated 30.3 million cases in the U.S. in 2015. That is a reason why November is set aside as National Diabetes Awareness Month. It is a time to call attention to the seriousness of diabetes and educate the public on the prevention and management of the disease.  

Diabetes is the inability to manufacture or properly use insulin, impairing the body’s ability to regulate sugar (glucose) that provides energy to cells and tissues throughout the body.  Therefore, it is a disease that affects many parts of the body and is associated with serious complications such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure and lower limb amputations.

While there is no cure for diabetes, there are many ways of managing it, and in some cases, avoiding it. With proper diet, exercise, medical care and careful management at home, serious complications can be avoided and a person with diabetes may enjoy a full and active life.

We know diabetes negatively affects the body from head to toe. So, controlling its affects requires a team of specialists to guide and treat persons with the disease. A person with diabetes should have the following specialists within their medical neighborhood: primary care physician, endocrinologist, ophthalmologist, dentist, vascular surgeon and a podiatrist.

Podiatrists are physicians and surgeons that are specially trained to treat foot conditions that can be caused by diabetes, such as neuropathy, infection and ulcers.

Of the more than 30 million people in the U.S. with diabetes, about half of them will develop neuropathy —a loss of feeling in the lower extremities. With this nerve damage, it is difficult to sense an open sore or injury on the foot until it has become infected. The leading cause of hospitalization among people with diabetes is foot ulcers and infections which often lead to full or partial amputations of the foot or lower leg.

Yes, this is serious! However, research shows that regular care from a podiatrist can reduce amputation rates up to 80 percent. And following the advice of others in the medical neighborhood can reduce the risks of other complications.

The CDC also reports there are approximately 7.2 million people who have diabetes but have not been diagnosed. That is a lot of people at risk for serious medical issues. Never ignore what your body says to you. Your body has ways of “talking to you” to let you know if something is changing.

Your feet and ankles show warning signs of diabetes in the following ways:

  • Changes in skin color
  • Swelling of the foot or ankle
  • Numbness in the feet or toes
  • Pain in legs
  • Open sores on the feet that are slow to heal
  • Ingrown and fungal toenails
  • Bleeding corns and calluses
  • Dry cracks in the skin, especially around the heel

A Comprehensive Diabetic Foot Exam is recommended for individuals at any risk level of developing diabetes.

Persons with diabetes need to inspect their feet daily and be vigilant in looking for signs of ulcers, including irritation, redness, cracked or dry skin (especially around the heels) or drainage on their socks.

In addition to examining feet every day, follow these foot health tips:

  • Discuss diabetes and the risks with family members. Diabetes can be hereditary, so talk to family members about monitoring blood sugar and foot health.
  • Never go barefoot. Always protect feet with the proper footwear and make sure socks and shoes are comfortable and fit well.
  • Trim toenails straight across, and never cut the cuticles. Seek immediate treatment for ingrown toenails, as they can lead to serious infection.
  • Never try to remove calluses, corns or warts by yourself. Over-the-counter products can burn the skin and cause irreparable damage to the foot.
  • Walking can keep weight down and improve circulation. Be sure to wear appropriate athletic shoes.
  • Keep feet elevated while sitting.
  • Wear thick, soft socks. Avoid socks with seams, which can rub and cause blisters or other skin injuries.
  • Have new shoes properly measured and fitted. Foot size and shape often changes over time. Shoes that fit properly should not rub or cause irritation.
  • Wiggle toes and move feet and ankles up and down for five-minute sessions throughout the day.
  • Visit a podiatrist regularly — at least two times per year — to avoid unnecessary complications.

For more information and resources for diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association’s website at diabetes.org.Ways to keep your feet healthy

Dr. Jodie Sengstock has been a practicing podiatrist for more than 20 years and currently practices with Dr. John Evans in Allen Park. She attended Wayne State University and received her Doctor of Podiatric Medicine from Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine. Dr. Sengstock is also a past president and the director of professional relations for the Michigan Podiatric Medical Association. She specializes in general podiatry, wound care, diabetic care, injuries and geriatric care.

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