Diabetes can put you at risk for a number of complications, including poor circulation and nerve damage in your extremities. In turn, this can lead to reduced sensation in the feet and make them more vulnerable to developing sores that become infected or are difficult to heal.
Known as foot ulcers, these skin sores are the most common complication associated with diabetes, as well as the leading cause of non-traumatic lower extremity amputations in the world. In fact, more than 80 percent of cases requiring a toe, foot, or lower leg amputation begin with foot ulcers, according to the Mayo Clinic. Diabetic foot ulcers aren't just serious—they can be life-altering or even life-threatening.
Fortunately, foot ulcers, infections, and amputations aren't foregone conclusions for diabetics. As with many diabetes complications, well-controlled blood sugars, daily self-exams, regular consults with medical professionals, and prompt treatment for any issues that do arise provides the best defense. Read on to learn more about foot ulcers, diabetic foot care, and how our skilled podiatrist can help keep your feet looking and feeling their best, so you can keep complications at bay.
Foot Ulcers: What They Are and How They Form
Diabetic foot ulcers are sores that form as a result of the skin's soft tissue breaking down and exposing the layers underneath. An ulcer can present as redness over a bony area or an open sore that worsens quickly. While these sores can develop anywhere on the toes or feet, they're most commonly found on the bottom of the foot or under the big toes.
Just having diabetes increases your chances of developing foot ulcers, but those who are unable to successfully manage the disease with diet, exercise, and medication are most at risk. Factors that raise the likelihood for serious foot ulcer complications include:
- High blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia)
- Poor blood circulation
- Nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy)
- Structural foot deformities, such as bunions or hammertoes
- Calluses or corns
- Irritated or injured feet
- Smoking cigarettes
- Drinking alcohol
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Poorly fitting or poor quality shoes
- Improper toenail trimming
- Vision problems that make it difficult to see your feet clearly
Foot Ulcer Signs and Symptoms
Skin ulcers can show up suddenly and without much fanfare. One day your feet seem fine, then the next you may notice a small lump or sore that's slow to heal or draining into your socks and shoes. These—along with unusual redness, swelling, irritation, and foul odors—are common early symptoms of diabetic foot ulcers.
As ulcers become more serious, they may be surrounded by black tissue, known as eschar, that forms due to a lack of healthy blood flow. Tissue around the ulcer can also die due to infection, allowing partial or complete gangrene to set in.
If you have diabetes, you simply can't afford to take the health of your feet for granted. Consult an experienced podiatrist right away if you have:
- Discolored skin
- Pain, numbness, or warmth around a callused or irritated area
- Redness or swelling
- Open sores or bleeding
- Drainage of yellow, red, or brown fluid
- Sores that don't begin healing quickly, lasting longer than one to two weeks
- Unusually bad foot odor
- Ulcers larger than ¾ of an inch
- Sores so deep they expose the underlying bone
Seeking prompt treatment for these issues can help prevent foot ulcers from becoming more serious or leading to amputation.
Daily Self-Exams and Regular Podiatry Care Can Help Keep Complications at Bay
Diabetic foot ulcers can threaten to sneak up on you if you're not careful, especially if the disease has caused a loss of feeling in your feet. Proper foot care, which includes daily self-exams, can help you catch skin ulcers in their early stages and prevent them from becoming more serious. Follow these simple tips for caring for diabetic feet.
- Inspect feet daily, looking for redness, swelling, cuts, blisters, and nail issues.
- Wash feet every day, using lukewarm water and gentle soap. Dry thoroughly, taking special care to dry between toes.
- Use a gentle lotion or moisturizing cream on the bottoms of the feet to keep skin soft and prevent cracks that invite bacteria and infections.
- Don't go barefoot, even just around the house.
- Wear clean, dry socks made of fibers that wick moisture away from the skin.
- Wear quality shoes that fit properly and comfortably, providing adequate support and cushioning for the balls, arches, and heels.
- See a podiatrist regularly for routine care, including toenail trimming; removal of calluses, corns, warts, or other foot lesions; and treatment of bunions or ingrown toenails.
Diabetic Foot Ulcer Treatment Options
Typically, the sooner you notice a foot ulcer and seek treatment, the better the outlook. Treatments include:
- Keeping pressure and weight off the affected part of the foot, which may involve the use of special shoes, casts, foot braces, compression wraps, or shoe inserts
- Debridement to remove unhealthy tissue from the wound
- Regular dressing changes to reduce the risk of infection
- Antibiotics, antiplatelets, or anti-clotting medications
- Advanced surgical procedures
Offering the Highest Standard of Care in Podiatry
When it comes to foot care, if you're diabetic, there's simply far too much at stake to go it alone. Fortunately, you don't have to. At Grandville Foot and Ankle, our adept podiatrist Dr. Sarah Stewart and her dedicated staff provide the highest standard of podiatry care for people with diabetes.
Complete the contact form or call Grandville Foot and Ankle at 616-534-3920 to schedule an appointment to have your feet thoroughly and carefully evaluated by Dr. Stewart. Don't wait—contact us today to take the first step toward better foot health.