Learn more about why & how diabetes can affect the feet, how to look after them daily & when you should be concerned about swollen feet
Having type 1 or type 2 diabetes means you’re at a greater risk of developing foot problems. It’s fairly common for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes to experience a loss of sensitivity in their feet, but it’s important to keep track of how your sensation has changed over time to ensure you don’t risk any serious complications.
The best way to care for your feet if you have diabetes is by following a simple hygiene routine and a daily check for sensitivity.
What is diabetic foot?
‘Diabetic foot’ refers to a loss of sensation in the feet. It can be experienced as part of diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage that can occur in people with diabetes).
It’s thought to be caused by raised blood sugar levels, which can also result in poor blood flow (circulation). You may also experience some cramps and pain in your legs or feet.
Poor blood flow to your feet may also slow down the healing of minor cuts, sores and injuries to the feet which can lead to serious problems if left untreated.
Why is it important to look after my feet?
Sensitivity or pain is one way in which your body alerts you to problems – for example, pain or throbbing can tell you when you’ve hurt yourself after a fall.
When you have problems with your feet, such as a blister, cut, burn or ulcer you’re likely to experience pain. If you still have all the sensation in your feet, you’d be alerted to the pain and could act quickly to get the right treatment.
However, if a foot problem goes untreated, it can lead to infections, foot ulcers and at worst, amputation. By regularly checking your feet for any loss of sensitivity or sensation, and for signs of pain or injury, you can stay on top of any issues.
How often should I check my feet?
If you have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, it’s recommended that you perform a quick, at-home check on your feet every day. This includes checking for any signs of damage and a check of your sensitivity. A loss of sensation can happen at any time, and without checking you might not notice it.
These daily checks should go alongside your annual diabetes check with your GP, which should include a professional assessment of your feet. Your GP should examine your feet and test for any numbness and lack of sensitivity using a special piece of equipment and offer advice on how best to treat your feet.
How should I check my feet?
First, check for any visual signs of foot damage This includes:
• Swelling on the top of feet or ankles
• Changes in colour
• Hard skin
If you are concerned about any changes you have noticed, speak to your GP.
This sensitivity check is designed to help you identify any changes in sensations you feel in your toes and feet.
You’ll need somebody to touch your toes and help record your results. The check should only take a couple of minutes.
• Take off your shoes and socks, lie down on either a bed or a sofa and close your eyes
• Ask your friend to remind you which is your right leg and which is your left leg by firmly touching each leg and saying “This is your right/left leg.”
• Then, your friend will touch the tip of six of your toes. They’ll do this for no longer than a second, using their index finger, with very light pressure
• Make sure they follow this order – big toe right, little toe right, big toe left, little toe left, middle toe right, middle toe left
• Continuing to keep your eyes closed, say out loud whether the toe being touched is on your right or left foot
• Your friend will then write down yes if you are right, no if you are wrong
If you score a ‘yes’ on five or six of the toes, you don’t need to do anything further. If you score ‘no’ on two or more, seek advice from your GP. Reduced sensation can put you at risk for problems such as foot ulcers.
Are there any serious issues I should look out for?
Minor problems with your feet can become serious quickly. If you notice any changes, consult your GP straight away. If they’re unavailable, go to your nearest out-of-hours healthcare service or call 111 for advice.
Signs of a serious problem can include:
• A tingling sensation, like pins and needles
• Pain or burning
• A dull ache
• Shiny, smooth skin on your feet
• Hair loss on your feet or legs
• Loss of feeling in your feet or legs
• Your feet aren’t producing sweat
• Wounds or sores that don’t heal
• Cramps in your calves when resting or walking
Seek medical attention urgently if you notice:
• Changes in the colour and shape of your feet
• Cold or hot feet
• Blisters and cuts that you can see but don’t feel
• Foul smell coming from an open wound
What else can I do to look after my feet?
Alongside your daily checks for sensitivity, it’s best to follow a simple hygiene routine to care for your feet. Wash them thoroughly every day and take care when drying. Use moisturiser to keep them hydrated but avoid the gaps between your toes. Make sure to keep your toenails at a reasonable length and use a nail file to get rid of any sharp edges.
Avoid walking barefoot both indoors and outdoors, and make sure your shoes and socks are fitted to your feet correctly.
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