After years of living with diabetes, the risks of long-term complications from the disease increase. The complications that cause problems for the foot are peripheral neuropathy – a loss of nerve function in the legs and feet – and peripheral vascular disease – impaired circulation in the legs and feet.
Both of these complications can lead to foot problems in different ways. When nerves are not functioning correctly, feeling is diminished or lost. Injury can occur from ill-fitting or inappropriate shoes, from stepping on sharp objects or even from normal everyday activities. Such injuries often go undetected and untreated.
An ulcer – a break in the skin that penetrates to deeper layers – may then form. If the ulcer is not treated properly, or if circulation is impaired, it may not heal. Continued walking on the foot further prevents the ulcer from healing. The ulcer can become infected and progress to the point where it threatens the foot or leg.
Changes in the bones, ligaments and joints of the foot can also occur in people with diabetes, and may result in collapse of the foot.
Foot Problems Are Not Inevitable
Since most foot problems begin with an unnoticed injury to the skin, many things can be done to prevent more serious problems, including:
- regular foot and footwear checks by a professional
- daily self-inspection of the feet
- never walking barefoot
- nail care only by professionals
- understanding why diabetes causes foot problems
With good education, good diabetes care, and proper footwear and foot care, people with diabetes can avoid many of the disease’s serious consequences for the feet.