Teaching Diabetic Foot Care

What you need to know

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder characterized by high levels of sugar in the blood and urine, excessive thirst and frequent urination. The sugar is derived from the food we consume; the sugar is then converted into glucose, the usable form of energy for all the cells in the body.

However, glucose cannot enter into the cells without the help of a hormone called insulin, which is produced by an organ called the pancreas, located near the stomach. When a person suffers from diabetes, the individual's pancreas can't make enough insulin or can't make insulin at all (Type 1 diabetes), or more commonly, the individual's body can't use the insulin as well as it should (Type 2 diabetes). Thus, with insufficient insulin present in the body, sugar (glucose) can't be utilized by the cells in the body; consequently, sugar in the blood begins to rise rapidly as food is consumed.

Over time, uncontrolled high levels of sugar in the blood lead to diabetes, which can cause many foot problems, as well as other medical complications like blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, nerve damage and stroke.

Diabetes can be dangerous to your feet because it can lead to serious consequences like amputations from even a small cut. There are two complications that diabetes presents:

  1. It may cause nerve damage (neuropathy), which results in the loss of feeling or sensation in the feet.
  2. It may cause poor blood circulation to the feet, making it difficult for an injury to heal or resist infections.

Because of the above-mentioned complications, diabetics must be aware of how foot problems commence from disorders in the nails, skin, muscles, nerves and blood vessels.

To prevent serious foot problems, make regular visits to your podiatrist (foot doctor) and use the following guidelines for diabetic foot care from the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons:

  • Look at your feet on a daily basis and check for cuts, blisters, redness and nail problems.
  • Wash your feet in lukewarm (not hot) water in order to keep them clean.
  • Be gentle when bathing your feet. Wash with a sponge and dry by blotting, especially between the toes.
  • Moisturize your feet daily to keep dry skin from itching or cracking. Do not moisturize between the toes, though; this could encourage fungal infections.
  • Cut nails carefully and straight across. File the edges. Do not cut nails too short; this could lead to ingrown toenails.
  • Never trim corns or calluses. Let the podiatrist do the job.
  • Wear clean, dry socks. Change them daily.
  • Avoid the wrong type of socks. Tight elastic bands can reduce circulation. Bulky socks can fit poorly and irritate the skin.
  • Wear socks to bed if you have cold feet at night.
  • Shake your shoes and inspect the insides before wearing them. You might not feel a pebble in your shoe, but it can cause a sore or blister on your foot.
  • Keep your feet warm and dry. Do not wet your feet in the snow or rain. Wear warm socks and shoes in the winter.
  • Never walk barefoot - not even at home! You could step on an object and get a cut.
  • Take care of your diabetes. Always monitor your blood sugar and keep sugar levels under control.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking restricts blood vessels in your feet.
  • Get periodic foot exams. Visit your podiatrist on a regular basis for an examination in order to prevent diabetic foot complications.

By Henk Woei