When you’re newly diagnosed with diabetes, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with large amounts of new information. From what foods should be avoided and the regular blood sugar monitoring, to learning and understanding the signs that something isn’t right, to how to best protect your health so that serious problems don’t develop – it can be a lot for a person to take in.
Foot problems pose a large risk to the health of those with diabetes, yet many remain unaware of the dangers, are unable to reach their feet to adequately care for them, or may place their foot health on the backburner while they navigate coming to terms with the other aspects of their diabetes.
If you’re looking for practical ways to help a family member or friend that has been diagnosed with diabetes, today our podiatrists have filled you in on ways you can help them care for their feet – and why this help is extremely valuable for their health in light of the new changes they’re going through.
Changes To The Feet In Diabetes
For your loved ones, diabetes negatively impacts two important processes in their feet: their feeling (nerves) and their circulation (blood vessels).
The feeling in the feet worsens
Given that the nerves are responsible for our ability to feel, when they are damaged from the effects of diabetes, the signals between our feet and our brain may start to get mixed up or lost. The result is that we gradually lose the ability to detect when something is touching the foot, instead starting to develop unusual feelings like pins and needles, burning and numbness. This is dangerous because if your loved ones can’t feel when they, for example, have a stone in their shoe or if they’ve stood on something sharp, they don’t know that they should do something about it. The object may pierce the skin, or even become lodged in their foot, and a wound can develop which may become infected, cause an ulcer, or worse.
Blood flow to the feet worsens
We need good blood flow so every cell in our body can get the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function, stay healthy and fight disease. When the blood flow to the feet worsens, your loved ones may have a hard time with healing any cuts and wounds to the feet. Having an open wound means they’re vulnerable to infection for longer, and if the infection does take hold, poor blood flow makes it harder for their body to fight the infection. You may notice signs of diminished circulation by looking for a pale, dry skin appearance, brittle toenails, perpetually cold feet, and a lack of hair growth on the toes.
The reason behind the damage to the nerves and vessels is that the ability to take the sugar that enters the bloodstream from food and supply it to cells around the body worsens in people with diabetes. This leaves the sugars in the blood for longer, which then goes on to damage body systems and organs.
Ways You Can Help Their Foot Health
You can help someone with diabetes stay on top of their foot health by:
- Checking their feet when you see them (ideally daily) for any new marks, spots, cuts, swelling or redness. Carefully check the underside and between the toes as this is often the hardest to get to and see
- Bring them a mirror to help them self-check the undersides of their feet more easily
- Help them wash their feet if they have trouble doing so on their own, taking care to dry them well between the toes
- Moisturising their feet to help promote the feeling in their feet, as dry skin can dull sensation
- Help them choose good, well-fitting shoes that have the right width and depth for both inside and outside of the house
- Encourage them to avoid walking around with bare feet, having their indoor shoes or slippers easily accessible by their bed
- Help them select socks that wick moisture away from their feet
- Check that they’re not bringing their feet in direct contact with heaters, hot water bottles, scalding hot showers, baths or electric blankets. If they’re having trouble detecting water temperature, you can get them a water thermometer – or there are shower installations available that will display the temperature
- Check in on how they’re feeling, and help them get medical help if something feels wrong
Importantly, Take Them To Their Annual Diabetic Foot Health Check With Their Podiatrist
Those living with diabetes are advised to have a foot health check with their podiatrist every year. This is a big part of what we do here at My FootDr, performing tests to assess their sensation and circulation, which progressively worsens over time. Based on the results, we explain their risks and how to best manage these day-to-day. You are always welcome to join in on these appointments (with the permission of your family member or friend) so you can learn this information too and ask our podiatrists any questions you have on how to prevent any complications or problems from starting.
You can book their appointment online here or call us on 1800 FOOT DR