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What is Diabetic Foot?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Diabetic foot is a common problem in patients who have diabetes mellitus. Patients with diabetes are prone to a wide range of associated health problems, and their feet are especially vulnerable to damage. The leading non-traumatic cause of lower limb amputations is complications from diabetic foot, underscoring the severity of this condition and the importance of proper foot and lower limb care for diabetics. Doctors also need to play a role in managing diabetic foot with routine examinations to assess foot health.

People with diabetes develop poor circulation, neuropathy, slow healing times, and weakened immune systems. Circulation to the foot is already challenging, and it becomes even more difficult for people with diabetes. The cutoff of circulation can lead to numbness in the foot, which allows diabetics to injure their feet without realizing it, and structural abnormalities of the foot may emerge as patients put pressure on their feet while engaging in daily activities.

One of the most common problems associated with diabetic foot are diabetic ulcers which can appear in the soles of the feet in response to poor circulation and pressure on the soles of the feet. These ulcers can become infected and become at risk for getting larger or fostering an infection which goes all the way to the bone. Diabetics can also develop foot deformities, and the loss of feeling in the foot may lead to loss of the toes and eventually loss of the foot if the foot becomes severely damaged.

Managing diabetic foot involves a number of approaches, including promoting healthy circulation to the feet, examining the feet regularly for signs of neuropathy and ulceration, wearing supportive footwear, keeping the feet clean and dry, and managing diabetes so that the diabetes does not get out of control. There is some dispute about footwear, with some doctors simply recommending comfortable footwear which does not put pressure on the foot, while others prefer to see their patients wearing custom-fitted orthotics. Light exercise and massage can also help maintain healthy feet for diabetics.

In the event that a foot does become infected or ulcerated, prompt and aggressive attention is needed to promote healing and reduce the risk of losing the foot. Diabetic foot is a problem in hospitalized patients as well, as the feet of diabetics may not be regularly checked, and they could develop problems while the patient is in a hospital bed. Patients with diabetes should be given comprehensive information about the risks of developing diabetic foot and tools which they can use to reduce the damage to their feet.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Lostnfound — On Nov 26, 2014

Foot care is so critical for diabetics! I make sure my feet are always in good shape and I address dry heels before they become cracked, etc.

One good way to help diabetic feet is to slather them with heavy lotion or cream and wear socks to bed. This helps keep the skin soft and the massaging action helps circulation. Getting good exercise, like walking, along with putting your feet up at home, helps too.

It's all about prevention, always. Thank the Lord, I still have full feeling in my feet, so I know if I step on anything, or if my shoes are rubbing, etc. But I'm still vigilant.

By Grivusangel — On Nov 25, 2014

The best way to help people with diabetes is to stress foot care from the time of diagnosis, and also to stress the importance of checking the feet regularly -- preferably on a daily basis.

My dad had diabetes and didn't take care of himself as he should have. That's the primary cause of neuropathy: poorly controlled diabetes.

My mom checked his feet every day for any sign of injury, and I routinely looked over his shoes for anything that might have gotten into them that could rub and blister his feet without him knowing about it. She put lotion on his feet every night, too.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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