WHAT IS PODIATRY?
Podiatric medicine focuses on diagnosing, treating, and preventing foot and ankle problems, such as those that arise due to complications associated with diabetes. Your podiatrist (doctor of podiatric medicine) is highly trained through years of study and clinical practice, including a bachelor’s degree program and four years of podiatric medical school. Podiatrists may also have one or more years of residency training, studying other aspects of foot care and surgery. Podiatrists continue to stay informed about the latest research and developments in the field. In treating your feet, your podiatrist may also work with your other health care providers to give you appropriate and comprehensive care.
WHAT IS DIABETES?
Diabetes occurs when there is too much glucose (sugar) in the blood. Risk factors include aging, high blood pressure, heredity, poor diet, overweight, and inactivity. People of certain ethnic backgrounds, such as African Americans and Asian Americans, are also more prone to the disease. Health complications related to diabetes include heart disease, blindness, and nerve and kidney damage. A person may have diabetes and not know it, so it is important to get tested for diabetes if risk factors for the disease are present. If left untreated, diabetes can lead to many health problems. However, once diabetes is diagnosed, it is possible to manage the disease through diet, exercise, and careful tracking of various health indicators such as blood sugar and blood pressure.
How Diabetes Affects the Feet
Diabetes may affect the feet in a number of ways, so diabetics should pay close attention to any changes or symptoms such as loss of feeling in the feet, any change in the shape of the feet, or chronic ulcers or sores on the feet. If any of these symptoms are noticed, a foot screening is in order without delay. Diabetes-related nerve damage may lesson a person’s ability to feel pain in the feet, meaning that small problems go unnoticed and develop into big problems.
In addition to checking their feet daily, people with diabetes should see a podiatrist twice a year, and contact a health care provider immediately if they see or feel any changes in their feet such as redness, swollen areas, or calluses. Letting foot problems such as these go unattended may lead to lower-extremity amputations. In the United States today, approximately 120,000 non-traumatic amputations are performed each year. As many as 5-15% of people living with diabetes will be subject to a lower-extremity amputation; 50% of those who have a major amputation will die within one year of the procedure.
TREATING THE DIABETIC FOOT
Foot care may be an area of extra concern for diabetics, but with vigilant care at home and at the podiatrist office, diabetics may maintain the health of their feet.
How Your Podiatrist Can Help
In addition to daily visual foot inspections and immediate professional podiatric attention to any problems, regular, professional foot exams are very important for every person with diabetes. A podiatrist is trained to detect any signs of potential complications that you may not notice. Having a podiatrist cut your nails will keep them well-groomed while minimizing the chances for infection.
What You Can Do
Diabetics must take special care of their feet; this list of dos and don’ts can help.
- Keep your blood sugar in control
- Wash your feet daily, drying carefully
- Check your feet each day for sores, calluses, red spots, cuts, swelling, and blisters.
- Wear flat, comfortable shoes that fit your heel
- Cut your toenails straight across
- Wear socks if your feet are cold
- Check your shoes for any objects or rough linings before wearing them
- See your podiatrist yearly, and at the first sign of any infection or inflammation
- Don’t put your feet in hot water
- Don’t cut off blood flow to your feet by wearing tight-fitting sock or garters
- Don’t try to treat corns or calluses yourself by using over-the-counter chemicals or
- cutting them
- Don’t wear bumpy or seamed socks
- Don’t walk barefoot
- Don’t smoke