One of the most alarming aspects of being diagnosed with diabetes is finding out about the reality of limb amputation.
According to The Amputee Coalition there are 2 million people living with the loss of a limb, and a projected 185,000 more each year. Of those people “the main cause is vascular disease (54%) including diabetes.” If that isn’t alarming enough, they warn that “Of persons with diabetes who have a lower extremity amputation, up to 55% will require amputation of the second leg within 2‐3 years.”
Perhaps the worst statistic of all is the facts about mortality rates. The correlation between vascular disease amputation and death is nearly 50% within five years of the procedure. This is tragic. On a brighter note, there are many things one can do to manage their diabetes to prevent the disease from getting to this point.
Diabetic foot care is of the utmost importance.
Having high blood sugar reduces the efficiency of blood flow to your feet, depriving them of nutrients and leading to an array of issues.
Depending on the amount of damage you have suffered with your nerves (see our article on Diabetes and Soft Tissue) it may be difficult to feel what is going on with your feet. You may not be able to feel when your shoes begin to chafe, or if you happen to get a minor cut or bruise. If these are left unchecked, they can become seriously infected and lead to amputation.
One of the first things you can get into the habit of is doing a daily foot check.
There are many ways this can be done, but most people are comfortable doing this when they get out of the shower. It is important to wash your feet with lukewarm water (you may not be able to feel how hot the temperature is and accidentally burn your feet so try checking the temp with your elbow), and to pay special attention to the toes.
After showing, simply towel dry your feet (and in between those toes!) and while moisturizing with an unscented lotion, check for any unusual bumps, marks, or changes in temperature. If you can get a good view, hold a hand mirror underneath, or ask someone to give it a good look.
Make sure you keep your feet dry and warm by wearing clean socks and changing your socks at least once a day. You should avoid walking barefoot outside, as you may not notice damage to your feet.
Also, comfortable footwear is a must! There are many brands that have specially designed shoes for diabetic support, but the focus is finding a good fit that won pinch or chafe your feet.
Some people find it helps to keep a log of their findings near where they put on or take off their shoes, and to share that log with their doctor on their checkups.
Do not ignore your bunions, calluses, and corns! These are common conditions that can be much more dire for diabetic patients. People with diabetes are prone to foot ulcers, so early detection could be a limb-saver.
Diabetic foot care can be a truly difficult aspect of self-care to wrap your head around, so please don’t hesitate to speak up and ask for help. Ask your doctor to refer you to a podiatrist (a healthcare professional that specializes in foot care) to help keep these small irritations from becoming major issues.
Remember, diabetes is a manageable disease, and there are resources to help you live a healthy life with diabetes.
Next week we will explore surgical complications diabetics face and let me assure you: No one wants to face an unnecessary surgery!