DIABETIC PATIENTS NEED TO WATCH THEIR FEET —
“Simple Precautions Can Avoid Complications”
Taking a minute or two every day to inspect your feet and observing a few simple rules can make the difference in sparing diabetes patients from a preventable outcome of the disease – a foot amputation.
Of all diabetes-related complications, a serious foot ulcer and subsequent amputation might be the most preventable with proper care and vigilance in checking the feet at least once a day for small cuts and other abrasions. Even those with good control of their blood sugar can experience foot ulcers, especially if neuropathy, a frequent diabetes complication, has caused decreased feeling on the bottom of their feet.
Loss of sensation inhibits the body’s normal pain response. As a result, walking can apply repetitive, unfelt pressure to a wound, making it larger and deeper. Left untreated, diabetic ulcers lead to serious infections, which may result in amputation.
Podiatrists can use a variety of surgical and non-surgical methods to heal diabetic ulcers, but early intervention yields the most favorable outcomes. Daily self exams are the best protection. Too often, patients fail to check their feet for small cuts or punctures that over time will ulcerate and become infected. If you have diabetes and see anything suspicious on your feet, consult a podiatrist for diagnosis and treatment. Even a few days can make a difference in preventing serious foot problems from developing.
An estimated 7 in 10 diabetic patients have nerve damage that impairs feeling in their feet. Fifteen percent eventually will develop a foot ulcer. Among those with ulcers, one in four will lose a foot. Each year more than 86,000 amputations are performed as a direct result of diabetes, and studies show half of those who have one foot or leg amputated will lose the other within five years.
In some cases, amputation might be the only option. If vascular and podiatric surgeries can’t improve blood circulation and foot function, resolve infection or restore foot function, amputation may be the only solution that enables the patient to heal. Today, advances in prosthetics make it possible for patients to return to an active lifestyle, a necessity for keeping diabetes under control.
Foot problems are not an inevitable consequence of diabetes. The risk can be lessened significantly by following a few simple do’s and don’ts (see list at the end of this article).
Diabetics are not the only ones who should take care of their feet daily. Whether you are young or old, active in sports or not, and generally healthy, you can avoid all kinds of foot problems if you catch them early. If you notice sores that are not healing, see a doctor. Podiatrists are trained to diagnose what is wrong when your feet hurt and to prescribe what you can do to improve how your feet function and feel. To do this, they work closely with other medical professionals and use a variety of treatments. Modern podiatrists have at least four years of graduate school training and often one or more years of residency experience. Drawing on their intensive training, podiatrists will treat some foot conditions in their offices, or they may prescribe medicines, design orthotics, or recommend footwear that will help cure or alleviate your problems. When needed, many podiatrists can perform foot surgery in their offices or at local hospitals. Most insurance companies and HMOs cover medically necessary podiatric care.
Foot problems, in diabetics and in others, are usually problems that can be managed. See your podiatrist for help. Most of them are listed in the Yellow Pages under Physicians. You may also ask for free foot pamphlets from the American Podiatric Medical Association at 1-800-ASK-APMA.