How Diabetes Affects Your Feet

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How Diabetes Affects Your Feet

For the hundreds of millions of people who have diabetes — there are more than 37 million in the United States alone — foot and ankle issues are typically at, or near, the top of the list of concerns.

While lower extremity complications may be widely known as a potential complication of diabetes, what may be less clear is the exact nature of the association.

To shed some light and get back to some basics, double-board certified surgeon Dr. Thomas Rambacher and the team here at Foot Ankle Leg Wound Care Orange County want to spend some time reviewing the link between diabetes and your foot health in this month’s blog post.

Too much blood sugar

Under normal  circumstances, a small organ in your body — your pancreas — produces insulin, which is a hormone that’s tasked with picking up glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream and delivering it to your cells where it’s converted into energy.

When you have diabetes, your body produces too little insulin and/or your cells have developed insulin resistance. This resistance means that your cells aren’t responding to the insulin when it tries to deliver glucose, so the sugar remains in your blood.

As a result of both lack of insulin and insulin resistance, you have higher-than-normal levels of glucose in your blood, where it can cause no small amount of damage, including to your feet.

Why your feet?

Our primary concern when it comes to your lower extremities are leg, ankle, and/or foot wounds — wounds that won't heal readily, placing you at greater risk for amputation. And if you think this risk is remote, think again — up to one-third of people with diabetes develop foot ulcers and limb-threatening infection develops in 50% to 60% of these wounds.

There are two reasons why these potentially serious complications develop:

1. Poor circulation

The higher levels of glucose in your bloodstream can, over time, cause blood vessels in your lower extremities to narrow and harden, compromising the circulation in your feet. When you have sluggish circulation in your feet, they don’t have access to healing and regenerative resources. As a result, any wound that develops might not heal in a timely manner, leaving it open to infection. And, once infection takes hold, the lack of healthy circulation also means your body can’t fight back as well.

2. Neuropathy

High blood sugar levels can also lead to peripheral nerve damage in your feet. This is problematic because you might not feel when there’s an open wound, ulcer, or cut in your lower limb until infection has already set in.

When you put these two issues together, you can see that the potential for lower limb issues is very high, and very serious.

Staying one step ahead

Your first line of defense in safeguarding your lower limbs is to control your diabetes. If a lower limb complication does develop, we’re your second line of defense. The earlier we can get in to treat your foot, ankle, or lower leg wound, the better your outcome, so please come see us at the first signs of a problem.

If you have more questions about the effect that diabetes can have on your lower limbs or you’re concerned about a wound, please call our office in Mission Viejo, California, at 949-832-6018 or request an appointment online today.