People with diabetes commonly experience complications with their legs and feet. However, this is not caused by the disease itself, but by other conditions that can be brought on by diabetes. The biggest dangers are diabetic neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease (PVD), and these two ailments together can cause a host of foot-related problems.
The high blood sugar that causes diabetes can also damage nerves, creating the condition called diabetic neuropathy. This can lead to pain, burning, tingling, and ultimately the loss of sensation. Someone with advanced diabetic neuropathy may not be able to feel heat, cold, or other types of pain in their extremities. When this occurs, their feet can sustain injuries that go unrecognized and untreated.Additionally, diabetic neuropathy causes muscle control to deteriorate, leading to poor alignment of the foot. This in turn can put too much pressure on one area of the foot and incur injury. Such injuries can lead to foot ulcers when they occur in tandem with another major diabetes-induced podiatric disorder, peripheral vascular disease.
Peripheral Vascular Disease
Also called peripheral artery disease, PVD denotes poor blood flow away from the heart and into the extremities. On its own, this condition increases the chances of heart attack, stroke, blood clots, deep vein thrombosis and other serious health events. However, it presents a unique threat in conjunction with diabetic neuropathy.Because PVD prevents the efficient circulation of blood in the legs, wounds do not heal efficiently on their own. While most people will be able to feel and treat wounds on their feet, someone without full (or any) sensation in their legs may not notice a cut or scrape. Because these wounds will be slow to heal, the chance of unchecked infection becomes higher, possibly leading to foot ulcers.
When neuropathy prevents someone from noticing a wound and PVD prevents the body from healing properly, injuries to the foot can become ulcerated, open sores. Without treatment, the damage to the tissue can increase and can become much more difficult to treat. Moreover, foot ulcers run a high risk of infection. In worst-case scenarios, they can lead to gangrene and necessitate the amputation of the infected foot or leg.
Worse Cases of Common Foot Ailments
In addition to foot ulcers, neuropathy and PVD can lead to more intense cases of common afflictions of the feet. For example, people with diabetes are more susceptible to athlete’s foot and other fungal infections in their skin and toenails. Due to neuropathy, they can’t feel the discomfort usually brought on by the infections, and PVD prevents the body from effectively staving off the growth. The poor foot alignment incurred with neuropathy can also contribute to buildups like corns, calluses, and bunions as well as other injuries like blisters and ingrown toenails.To avoid these problems, you should always follow your doctor’s advice for managing diabetes. To counteract PVD, you should regularly stretch your legs, curl your toes and wiggle your feet. Take care to wash your feet daily and inspect them for injuries and abnormalities. If you encounter a foot problem that won’t heal or gets worse, you should contact your doctor for professional treatment.