Diabetes and Foot Disease

Medical expert Dr. Mohan S. Palaniswami answers common questions about diabetes:

Q: What can I do to prevent foot disease?

Q: What can I do to prevent foot disease?


A: Up to 15 percent of people with diabetes experience foot ulcers and/or amputations. Most of this is due to traumatic injury and slowed healing due to diabetes. In fact, an ulcer can start with a small injury that you may not even notice. Lots of things can make a foot injury more likely to occur and more difficult to notice, including nerve disease, decreased blood supply, and a weakened immune system and healing process due to diabetes. (For more information, see the question What are the effects on the nerves that diabetes can have? regarding sensory problems.)

Because it is difficult to change the healing process of injury, the key to reducing ulcers and potential amputation is prevention. That means being very careful about managing your diabetes and being involved in caring for your feet. To best prevent foot disease, it is important to check your feet every day. You should also see a foot specialist (podiatrist) regularly. Additionally, if you have an injury that goes unnoticed for some time (particularly an open wound), see your doctor.

There are several things that increase your risk for foot ulcers, such as older age, male sex, length of time with diabetes, other conditions, poor blood sugar control, smoking and damaged nerves. It is very important for you to control the risk factors that you can, such as blood sugar and smoking.

Even if you do your best, however, you may still develop an ulcer, especially if you have lost some feeling in your feet. That makes it even more important to check your feet every day, wear stable, closed-toe shoes and be careful to walk without contorting your foot (you can even have your podiatrist check your walking style). The main idea is to protect and reduce the pressure on your feet. All of these steps are important, as they may be the keys to reducing your risk of amputation.

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