People with diabetes can develop poor circulation and nerve damage in their feet. Damage to the circulation decreases the ability of injuries to heal and increases the risk of infection. Damage to the nerves of the feet leads to unpleasant sensations such as itching, burning or numbness. Sometimes you may even have a foot injury and be unaware of it.
The risk of damage is more likely if:
- you've had diabetes for a long time
- blood glucose levels have been too high for too long
- you smoke or are inactive
A doctor, podiatrist or nurse can carry out an easy and painless check on your bare feet to assess whether you have a low or high risk of developing serious problems.
What is checked?
- Blood flow to the feet (circulation)
- Feeling and reflexes (nerves)
- Foot shape
- Skin for dryness, calluses, corns, cracks and infections
Low-risk feet: have normal sensation and good blood flow.
High-risk feet: have diminished feeling and poor blood flow.
If you have had a foot ulcer or amputation in the past, you have high-risk feet. Feet with calluses or deformities also have an increased risk of poor feeling and/or poor blood flow.
As well as following the advice for caring for their feet, people with high-risk feet must take special care to avoid further problems. People with high-risk feet are advised to see a podiatrist with sound diabetes knowledge and in some cases may be referred to a specialist or high risk foot clinic.
Caring for your feet
Whether or not you have low- or high-risk feet, it's important to look after them.
- Attend education groups to find out how to look after your feet.
- Have your feet checked twice a year by your doctor or a diabetes health professional.
- Get to know your feet wash, dry and look at your feet every day.
- Get medical advice early if you notice any changes.
- Cut your toenails straight across and gently file any sharp edges.
- If you can't reach your toenails, get someone else to cut them for you.
- Use moisturisers to avoid dry skin.
- Never use over-the-counter corn cures.
- Avoid wearing tight socks and knee-high stockings which can reduce circulation.
- Wear covered, supportive shoes that fit well the right length should be a thumb-width longer than your longest toe. Buy them in the afternoon when your feet are biggest.
- Keep your feet away from direct heat such as heaters, water bottles and electric blankets.
Points to remember
- Low-risk feet can become high risk-feet without displaying symptoms.
- Knowing the risks and taking care of your feet can prevent amputation.
- It's important to have a professional foot check at least once a year.