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Diabetes and your feet

Diabetes can make even minor foot problems potentially serious. But regular checkups and daily care can help keep your feet healthy.

Pain is your body's signal that something is wrong. But if you have diabetes, sometimes it's what you don't feel that can hurt you.

Diabetes can cause nerve damage and reduce blood flow. This can make your feet numb and slow to heal when they're injured. As a result, even minor injuries could become serious problems.

For example, small sores that aren't found and treated can become deep sores called ulcers. An infected ulcer requires medical attention, sometimes in a hospital. In serious cases of infection, it may be necessary to amputate toes or a foot.

But you can protect your feet from diabetes-related complications using this advice from the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Diabetes Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Control your blood sugar. Follow your doctor's advice about diet, exercise and medicine.

Practice good foot hygiene. Wash daily with lukewarm water and mild soap. Dry well, especially between the toes, with a soft towel. Pat gently; don't rub. Apply a thin coat of skin lotion over the tops and bottoms of your feet, but not between the toes.

Take care of your toenails. Cut nails straight across. If your nails are thick and tough, a doctor can cut them.

Check your feet daily. If necessary, use a mirror to look at the bottom of each foot, or ask someone else to look for you. Check between the toes for swelling, redness, blisters, cuts, scratches, bleeding and nail problems. If you find any of these, call your doctor. Don't try to remove calluses, corns or bunions without talking to your doctor first.

Protect your feet. Don't let them get too hot or too cold. Don't soak them in hot water or use a heating pad on them. And don't go barefoot, even indoors.

Check the inside of shoes for rough areas, seams and foreign objects that could cause injury. Wear a different pair of shoes on alternate days. Do not wear open-toed shoes, especially flip-flops.

Choose shoes that fit. Shoes should have extra room in the toe box and be made of soft upper material that can breathe. Don't wear shoes that rub your foot or cause redness. If you have trouble finding well-fitting footwear, consider custom-made shoes. Insurance or Medicare may cover the costs if your doctor recommends them.

Wear the right socks. Socks or stockings should not be tight at your toes. Choose square-toed socks or socks without seams. Avoid stretch socks, nylon socks, or socks with an elastic band or garter at the top. Change socks daily.

Get a checkup. Ask your doctor to check your feet at every visit. Report any infections or other danger signs immediately.

Reviewed 10/31/2022

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