Foot complications can be a cause of diabetes and it is particularly important to have your feet checked by a Podiatrist regularly.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a condition where there is too much glucose in the blood. The body can’t make insulin or is not effectively using the insulin it does make. Overtime high glucose levels can damage blood vessels and nerves, resulting in long term health complications including heart, kidney, eye and foot damage.

There are three types of diabetes:

  • Type 1
  • Type 2
  • Gestational diabetes

High glucose levels are determined by a general practitioner and they may refer you to an endocrinologist, diabetes educator, optometrist, dietician or podiatrist.

Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Being more thirsty than usual
  • Passing more urine
  • Feeling lethargic and tired
  • Always feeling hungry
  • Slower healing rate of cuts etc 
  • Leg cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Leg cramps
  • Gradually putting on weight or unexplained weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Itching, skin infections
  • Urinary tract or fungal infections

Diabetes is diagnosed by a blood test which checks your glycated haemoglobin (HbA1x), fasting blood glucose, non-fasting blood glucose and oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT).  Type 1 diabetes is usually confirmed with an extra blood test to check for autoantibodies. These autoantibodies stop the pancreas from making insulin as they act as a ‘defence’ protein.

Early diagnosis of diabetes and optimal self-management will reduce the risk of diabetes related complications.

Checking blood flow during a diabetes foot assessment

How does diabetes affect your feet?

Diabetes affects the feet by either damaging the blood vessels, resulting in slower healing or causing nerve damage which can reduce the feeling in your feet. The combination of this can mean that problems are not noticed and dealt with which may lead to serious complications such as amputation.

Foot problems are a common complication of diabetes with an estimated 4400 diabetes-related amputations occuring in Australia each year.

A sign of circulation issues is cramping in legs at night and whilst walking. This is caused by a hardening or narrowing of the arteries due to raised blood sugar levels or high blood fats. The same effect can be caused by smoking. 

Burning, tingling, numbness and pain are all side effects of peripheral neuropathy. Pain can be often worse at night, and the feet are usually the first part of the body where damage occurs to the nerves. There are other causes of peripheral neuropathy such as alcoholism, traumatic injuries, exposure to toxins and other metabolic problems.

Foot problems can be avoided if you take care of your feet and act quickly when you have a problem. Get your feet checked at least once a year by a doctor or podiatrist to detect problems early and help prevent complications.

Tips for daily foot care

It is important to:

  • Check your feet daily  – if necessary use a mirror to check underneath the feet
  • Whilst checking the feet daily check for any abnormal swelling, redness or heat that could be a sign of infection
  • Wash and dry carefully between the toes
  • Use methylated spirits between the toes if there is moisture 
  • Moisturize dry skin daily, but not between the toes. Especially if there are cracked heels. A heel balm or sorbolone is appropriate. 
  • Wear appropriate and well-fitting shoes to protect your feet. Ensure they are not tight or causing any rubbing
  • Avoid tight elastic top socks which may cause rubbing and reduce circulation to the feet.
  • See a Podiatrist to cut your toenails if you cannot see or reach your feet.
  • Use a pumice stone carefully on calluses, however do not use any sharp instruments. It is best to see a Podiatrist to have them remove this. 
  • Check the temperature of the bath or shower with an elbow to ensure it’s not too hot.

Prevention is always better than management of foot related injuries.  Here are some ways to improve your circulation to the feet which include:

  • Control blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible
  • Reduce or quit smoking
  • Exercise daily to keep the blood flowing around the body

Podiatrists are experts in looking after the foot and lower limb, especially when it comes to managing Diabetes. Podiatrists deal with the prevention, diagnosis and management of foot related issues. You don’t need a referral to seek advice or treatment from a Podiatrist.

When to see a Podiatrist or your doctor:

  • If you develop pain, throbbing, heat, swelling or discoloration in your feet
  • A cut or injury is not healing or becomes red

Remember foot problems can be avoided if you take care of your feet and act quickly. 

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