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Signs of Diabetic Foot Symptoms You Should Know

People living with diabetes know that the disease affects a lot more than just their blood sugar levels. This is especially true when it comes to your feet, since people who have diabetes are more prone to foot problems. That’s because having too much glucose (which is sugar) in your blood for a long time can trigger them, along with other serious complications, according to Medline Plus. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to signs of diabetic foot symptoms. Below, a roundup of some of things you should look for that could possibly be associated with diabetic foot, but note that the descriptions are not intended as medical advice or guidance on your health. If you believe you might have diabetic foot, seeking out a doctor is the best course for expertise on the subject.

diabetic foot symptoms graphic illustration, ulcers
Common symptoms of diabetic foot.
CREDIT: VectorMine - stock.adobe.com

How can diabetes affect my feet?

Diabetes can cause two common issues, among others, that affect your feet. The first could be diabetic neuropathy. When diabetes isn’t treated and kept under control, it can lead to nerve damage, according CDC data. Sometimes, those who have nerve damage in their legs and feet can’t feel any sensations there, including heat, cold or pain, which is called “sensory diabetic neuropathy.” For those who have this condition, it’s possible that the muscles of their feet won’t work properly because of damaged nerves, leading their foot to not align correctly and putting too much pressure on one part of the foot. Another side effect is they may not feel sores or cuts on their feet, which could lead to infection if they aren’t tended to, WebMD reports.

The second possible issue that diabetes patients may have is peripheral vascular disease, which is the term for poor blood flow in the arms and legs. Since some types of diabetes affects blood flow, it takes longer for cuts, sores and other injuries to heal. When infections don’t heal because of poor blood flow, it could put the individual at risk for developing ulcers or gangrene, which is when tissue dies because of lack of blood flow, according to the Mayo Clinic.

common diabetic foot symptoms graphic illustration photo
Illustration of usual locations of ulcers in the diabetic foot.
CREDIT: Aksana - stock.adobe.com

What are some of the most common foot problems for people with diabetes?

Though anyone is susceptible to foot problems, these are some of the most common issues for people with diabetes, which can possibly lead to infection and serious complications, including amputation in some cases. Keep an eye out for some of these signs that might be symptoms of diabetic foot:

  • Diabetic ulcers. Yes, you can get an ulcer on your feet. In fact, up to 10% of people with diabetes will get them, according to University of Michigan Health. It’s when there is a deep sore or break in the skin, which can be caused by scrapes, cuts or from ill-filling shoes that keep rubbing on your feet. Since they can become infected, it’s important to treat them immediately, so ask your doctor to share the best way to do so.
  • Blisters. Practically everyone has had a blister before and know what a pain they can be—literally. They’re sometimes caused by shoes that don’t fit correctly or wearing shoes without socks, since they’re the result of shoes rubbing on your foot in the same spot over and over again. Though it may be tempting, never pop a blister, which can lead to infection. The skin covering it is actually protecting it, so use an antibacterial cream and soft bandages to safeguard the skin.
  • Bunions. If the spot on your foot where the big toe bends towards the second toe becomes red, callused and/or inflamed, those are symptoms of a bunion. It may also be sticking out and feel extra hard. Though they can be hereditary, they’re most commonly caused by wearing high heels with a narrow toe bed, putting pressure and moving your toes. Bunions can appear on just one or both feet. Foam or felt padding can help alleviate irritation, pain and pressure on the bunion or your doctor can give you a device to separate the toes. However, if the bunion causes a lot of pain or becomes severe, surgery may be required to correct the alignment of your toes.
  • Athlete’s foot. This fungus causes itching, cracked skin and redness. It’s possible for bacteria and germs to enter skin via the cracks, which might lead to an infection. Medicine that treats athlete’s food by killing the fungus that causes it is available in cream or pill form.
  • Nail fungal infections. Some of the warning signs of a fungal infection are discolored nails that are opaque or yellowish brown, thickened, brittle, crumbled or separated from the rest of your nail. Unfortunately, shoes are the perfect breeding ground for nail fungal infections, since they’re warm, dark and moist. A nail fungal infection can also be caused by an injury to the nail. Though over the counter treatments are available, prescription options are much more effective. It’s also possible that your doctor may need to remove the infected nail.
  • Plantar warts. It’s easy to mistake a plantar wart for a callus, but the warning sign is plantar warts have a tiny black spot or a pinhole in the middle. They’re usually painful and can grow solo or in a group. A virus that infects the outer layer of skin on the soles of the feet causes them. See your doctor to confirm if you have a plantar wart and find out if you should have it removed.
  • Calluses. A buildup of hard skin, calluses are caused by ill-fitting shoes, a skin problem, or uneven distribution of weight on the feet. They’re mostly commonly found on the bottom of the foot or the toes. Though calluses are normal and common, it’s best to see your doctor to determine if yours causes additional complications. You can care for a callus on your own by using a pumice stone to gently remove the dead skin that has built up, but never use a razor or a sharp object to cut it out. Insoles and cushioned pads can also help to prevent and treat calluses.
  • Corns. Essentially a smaller version of a callus, corns are also a buildup of hard skin. They’re usually found on or between toes, particularly near a bony area. Typically, they’re caused by tight-fitting shoes or friction from the toes. Like calluses, you can use a pumice stone after a shower to remove the dead skin, but never take a sharp object to it.
  • Dry skin. Flaky feet may not seem like a serious issue, but if your feet get too dry then the skin can crack, allowing in bacteria and hence an infection. Prevent that by using hydrating soaps and applying lotion regularly to keep skin soft, hydrated and healthy.
  • Hammertoes. A hammertoe is a toe that is bent and could be triggered by a weakened muscle that shortens the tendons in your toe, leading the toe to curl under your foot. They can sometimes either be hereditary or caused by wearing shoes that are too short. Hammertoes can cause blisters, sores and calluses, and potentially lead to problems with walking. Corrective shoes and splints can help alleviate issues associated with hammertoes, but in serious cases surgery may be needed to straighten the toe.
  • Ingrown toenails. Known for potentially being quite painful, ingrown toenails occur when the edges of the toenail grow into your skin. The edge of the nail may cut the skin, leading to a sense of pressure, redness, swelling, drainage, pain and infection. Pressure from shoes is one of the most common culprits, though cutting toenails incorrectly, wearing shoes that crowd toes, and repeated trauma to the foot from movements like aerobics, running or walking can also cause them. To prevent ingrown toenails, properly trim your nails regularly and always cut them straight across. See a doctor if an ingrown toenail has become painful or infected; it’s possible the toenail or part of it may need to be removed.
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