How People With Diabetes Can Protect Their Feet

Being alert to signs of an infection can prevent far worse.

Video: Health Epidemics

Video: Health Epidemics

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People living with diabetes often suffer nerve damage that numbs their extremities—a dangerous condition that can lead to sores and infection. Here's how to avoid a serious problem:

Do a regular visual check: Check feet nightly before bed, advises Stephen Kominsky, a podiatric surgeon and diabetic foot expert at Washington Hospital Center in D.C. Daily exams allow patients to get help before a minor situation becomes catastrophic. Look for areas of redness, cracks in the skin, corns, ingrown toenails, and other abnormalities. Since neuropathy can cause numbness in fingertips, run the back of the hand along the tops and bottoms of feet to feel for areas of warmth. If a spot on one foot is hotter than the corresponding spot on the other foot, it may indicate an infection. Anything suspect warrants a conversation with a doctor, who is likely to examine the affected area and advise immobilization, antibiotics, or surgery depending on the problem's severity.

Change shoes frequently: David Armstrong, a podiatric surgeon and diabetic foot specialist at Rosalind Franklin University Medical Center in North Chicago, recommends changing shoes multiple times daily to limit the damage from rubbing and pinching that one pair can inflict. Patients without pain may not notice blisters caused by their favorite shoes.

See a specialist: If you're at risk for foot complications, ask to be referred to a podiatric medicine specialist. Since general physicians are responsible for treating all of a diabetic patient's ailments, Armstrong says, they're likely to put matters of the feet on the back burner as they focus on managing high blood sugar. Specialists, he says, will ensure that a diabetic's feet aren't neglected, and can educate patients on how to prevent and minimize infections.