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What is a Diabetic Foot Infection?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2019
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Diabetic foot infection may be among the most common medical problems facing those with diabetes. People with diabetes may eventually suffer damage to the nerves, blood vessels, and immune system, generally due to chronic high blood sugar levels. Nerve damage, especially peripheral nerve damage, can make it difficult or impossible for diabetics to detect minor injuries to the feet. Damage to circulation and immunity can make minor foot injuries more likely to progress to serious infection.

People with diabetes may eventually suffer peripheral neuropathy, a type of nerve damage that usually affects the extremities, where the peripheral nerves are located. This type of nerve damage can make diabetics lose physical sensation in their feet. Often, normal perspiration and sebaceous oil production decreases, leaving the skin of the feet dry and more vulnerable to the formation of sores. Because diabetics suffering peripheral neuropathy often aren't able to feel cuts, scrapes, bruises, pressure sores, or even the discomfort caused by ill-fitting shoes, they are less likely to recognize the possibility of foot injury before it occurs.

The chronically high blood sugar levels often associated with diabetes can also damage blood vessels and reduce immunity. As a result, diabetic foot injures are likely to heal slowly and are usually vulnerable to infection. Most diabetics are advised to check their feet nightly and seek medical attention at the first sign of diabetic foot infection.

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The complications associated with diabetic foot infection can be severe. Diabetic foot infection can necessitate amputation of the feet or legs in those patients who fail to control blood sugar levels and who fail to practice proper foot care at home.

Proper diabetic foot care usually requires diabetics to be vigilant about nightly foot self-exams, even if they don't feel pain in the feet. Moisturizer is usually applied to the feet to prevent drying of the skin. Breathable socks and well-fitting shoes are generally recommended. Controlling blood sugar, exercising regularly, and avoiding tobacco use are all usually recommended to lower the risk of diabetic foot infection. Diabetics who exercise strong self-care and disease management practices are considered far less likely to develop the complications that can increase the risk of diabetic foot infection and consequent foot amputation.

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