How can diabetes affect my feet?

Chronically high blood sugar (glucose) levels can be associated with serious complications in people who have diabetes. The feet are especially at risk. Two conditions called diabetic neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease can damage the feet (and other areas of the body) in people who have diabetes.

What is diabetic neuropathy?

Chronically high sugar levels associated with uncontrolled diabetes can cause nerve damage that interferes with the ability to sense pain and temperature. This so-called “sensory diabetic neuropathy” increases the risk a person with diabetes will not notice problems with his or her feet. Nearly 10% of people with diabetes develop foot ulcers due to peripheral vascular disease and nerve damage. People with diabetes may not notice sores or cuts on the feet, which in turn can lead to an infection. Nerve damage can also affect the function of foot muscles, leading to improper alignment and injury.

What is peripheral vascular disease?

Diabetes is associated with poor circulation (blood flow). Inadequate blood flow increases the healing time for cuts and sores. Peripheral vascular disease refers to compromised blood flow in the arms and legs. Poor blood flow increases the risk that infections will not heal. This, in turn, increases the risk of ulcers and gangrene, which is tissue death that occurs in a localized area when there is an inadequate blood supply.

What are common foot problems of people with diabetes?

The following images show common foot problems that anyone can get; however, those with diabetes are at increased risk for serious complications associated with these conditions, including infection and even amputation.

Athlete’s foot

Fungal infection of the feet is called athlete’s foot. Cracked skin, itching, and redness are associated with the condition. Fungus enters cracks in the skin causing an infection that must be treated with antifungal medications. Oral medications or topical creams may be used to treat athlete’s foot.