Take steps to protect your feet from diabetes complications

February 10, 2011 By Joseph Rosenblatt, M.D., F.A.C.E., F.A.C.P.

Experts estimate that more than 20 million Americans now have diabetes—but that nearly one-third of them don't know it yet. In fact, many people learn they have diabetes not from telltale symptoms that send them to a doctor, but from routine screening tests. And without symptoms, it can be difficult to appreciate the serious consequences diabetes can have on your health.

Having diabetes means your body doesn't produce or properly use insulin, the hormone that's essential to get sugar, or glucose, from food into your cells to use as energy. As a result, glucose builds up in the blood, depriving your cells of energy; increasing your risk for infection; and damaging blood vessels, nerves and other parts of your body.

What does diabetes have to do with feet?
Because diabetes damages nerves and reduces circulation, you may feel less sensation in your feet and find wounds slow to heal, making your feet vulnerable to uncontrolled infection. Although there's no cure for diabetes, you can learn how to decrease your risk of complications, especially with regards to your feet, with good diabetes self-management. Invest in comfortable, quality shoes and seek immediate medical care for any foot problem.

If you have a foot ulcer, see your doctor right away—waiting can reduce your treatment options and jeopardize your health. Doctors can administer antibiotics or drain or surgically remove diseased tissue.

Do your part every day
• Self-monitor and log your blood glucose. There's no “right” number of times to test. At certain times, such as when you're first diagnosed, you'll benefit from testing several times a day to help get your blood glucose in your healthy range.
• Keep track of your medications. Understand the recommendations for dosages and timing.
• Eat well. Careful eating is an essential key to self-management.
• Exercise. Frequent activity is important for weight control and general health.
• Examine your feet. Because you're prone to numbness, infections and poor circulation, your feet are vulnerable to health problems that should be caught early. Check your feet daily for cuts, blisters, sores, redness or ingrown toenails.

Joseph Rosenblatt, M.D., F.A.C.E., F.A.C.P., is an endocrinologist and associate medical director of the Joslin Diabetes Center Affiliate at The Hospital of Central Connecticut.