How Does Diabetes Affect Your Feet?

Those new to the world of diabetes are sometimes surprised to learn about the far-reaching effects that high blood glucose can have on their bodies. After all, glucose is the fuel that your body needs to function and therefore you might wonder why high levels are a problem, since there’s glucose in your blood all the time.

Persistent levels of high blood sugar take their toll, however. It’s long-term exposure to high levels that causes damage, and your feet are potentially a site of diabetes complications. In particular, high glucose levels can harm the nerves and blood vessels in your feet.

Diabetic neuropathy

The medical term for nerve damage, neuropathy happens in diabetics due to the presence of high blood sugar levels over time. Also called peripheral neuropathy since it affects your feet and legs on the periphery of your body, diabetic neuropathy can have several effects on your feet.

Loss of feeling

Nerve damage usually starts with numbness in your feet. That may not seem like much of a problem at first, but when neuropathy progresses to the point where you’re unable to feel damage to your feet, you may develop secondary problems that lead to infection and even gangrene. Half of all foot amputations in the United States are due to diabetic neuropathy.

Phantom pain

Diabetic neuropathy can also create painful tingling or aches that originate in the nerves themselves, not from physical injury. Along with this phantom pain, you may still be missing pain from blisters, sores, and other actual damage.

Muscle control

Sensation isn’t the only function of nerves. Diabetic neuropathy can also interfere with the normal function of your feet, leading to imbalances and pressure on localized areas rather than evenly spread.

Peripheral artery disease

Diabetes also increases your risk of arterial problems, again due to long-term exposure to high levels of blood glucose. Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is much like coronary artery disease except that, instead of the heart, the vessels of your feet and lower legs experience the effects of blockages.

When fatty blockages build up in larger arteries, it may take time for blood flow to be compromised. In your feet, even the largest arteries are smaller, so it takes less for a blockage to slow or, in some cases, completely block blood vessels.

Complications from PAD include pain, particularly while you’re walking. One foot may feel colder than the other, due to a blockage on one side. Cuts or sores on your feet may take a long time to heal, or they may not heal at all without medical treatment. Impaired blood flow also contributes to gangrene, for which diabetic neuropathy already raises the risk.

Managing diabetes requires a medical team to monitor your condition and advise you of the risks that you face. Dr. Stephen G. Eichelsdorfer and his team at Town Center Foot & Ankle provide the specialty care to preserve the health of your feet in the face of diabetes challenges. Call the office nearest you today or request an appointment using the online tool to add professional podiatry care to your diabetes management arsenal. 

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