Why your feet matter

Diabetes is a serious condition that can affect the entire body. Around 1.7 million Australians have diabetes, however only 1.2 million have been formally diagnosed; meaning that many people have diabetes without yet being aware. More than 100,000 Australians have developed diabetes in the past year.

Diabetes is a condition where the amount of glucose in your blood is too high because the body cannot use it properly. For our bodies to work properly we need to convert glucose (sugar) from food into energy. A hormone called insulin is essential for the conversion of glucose into energy.

More than 100,000 Australians have developed diabetes in the past year

In people with diabetes, insulin is no longer produced, not produced in sufficient amounts or not used properly by the body. Diabetes develops when glucose can’t enter the body’s cells to be used as fuel. This happens when either:

· There is no insulin to unlock the cells (Type 1 Diabetes)

· There is not enough insulin or the insulin is there but not working properly (Type 2 Diabetes).

Diabetes and the Feet

In people with diabetes, the feet are an often over-looked area given the other aspects of diabetes that also require attention. However, foot problems in people with diabetes are an extremely common and often debilitating. It should be noted that most foot problems are avoidable with regular foot monitoring and , regular foot care.

The most common of these problems is the Diabetic Foot Ulcer, which is a wound occurring on the foot , commonly caused by a lack of sensation and/or poor blood supply in a person with diabetes. This loss of sensation &/or poor blood supply can often result from damage caused by raised blood sugars over a long period of time. Diabetic Foot ulcers can occur in people with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

What is a diabetic foot ulcer?

The term ‘foot ulcer’ can often refer to a patch of broken down skin on the feet. In people with diabetes, high or fluctuating blood sugar levels, reduced blood flow to the extremities and nerve damage can inhibit the ability of the skin to repair itself. Because of this impaired rate of healing, even a minor injury can start a foot ulcer.

Why are people with diabetes more likely to develop a foot ulcer?

A common symptom of diabetes is damage to the nerves in your feet. The damaged nerve function is called neuropathy, and about half of all people with diabetes have some form of nerve damage. Neuropathy results in either pain, tingling, weakness or reduced sensation in the feet and lower limbs. A loss of sensitivity in the feet often leads to an abnormal walking pattern causing increased pressure in certain areas of the foot. The development of new calluses can be an indication of abnormal pressure being applied and continuing to walk unnaturally on an ‘insensitive foot’ increases the likelihood of ulcers forming, and reduces the ability of the body to heal an existing ulcer.

Because of the loss of sensation in the foot, a person with diabetes would be less likely to realise they’ve injured their foot, y as they may not have the ability to feel pain. This means they are less likely to notice and treat an injury, allowing it to progress to a more serious, advanced stage.

Even minor injuries caused by a small cut, bruise or a blister can develop into a diabetic foot ulcer

Another common side effect of diabetes is reduced blood flow to the feet, caused by narrowed arteries and/or blood vessels. The reduced blood flow to the extremities can impair the ability of the body’s own immune system to heal injuries. When an injury to the foot cannot self-heal, a foot ulcer can then develop. Therefore, even minor injuries caused by a small cut, bruise or a blister can develop into a diabetic foot ulcer.

Other factors that can increase the risk of developing a diabetic foot ulcer, includes smoking, a lack of exercise, being overweight, high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure, wearing poor-fitting footwear (or no footwear, particularly outside where cuts and injuries are more likely to occur), and suboptimal management of the overall diabetes condition.

 

Why is prevention and early treatment important?

Did you know? Every three hours in Australia, a person with diabetes has a lower limb removed as a direct result of diabetes-related foot disease. Sadly, 50% of these will go on to live less than a further five years. Prevention and early treatment can help.
The occurrence of a foot ulcer is an unpleasant experience, causing pain and discomfort, the need for regular attention (eg. wound dressing), and often taking a lengthy time to heal. If you notice an injury or ulcer on your foot or lower leg, we recommend seeking advice from a health care professional (such as a GP or podiatrist) as soon as possible. Prompt attention will allow treatment to start as early as possible, giving you the best chance of faster and more successful healing.

 

Did you know? Every three hours in Australia, a person with diabetes has a lower limb removed as a direct result of diabetes-related foot disease. Sadly, 50% of these will go on to live less than a further five years. Prevention and early treatment can help.

The occurrence of a foot ulcer is an unpleasant experience needing regular attention (eg. wound dressing) and often taking a lengthy time to heal. Peripheral Neuropathy may develop in patients who have suffered Diabetes over time & is a reduction of sensation in your feet. Though a foot ulcer can cause pain & discomfort, it is even harder to manage when you can’t feel its presence.

Check your feet regularly and If you notice an injury or ulcer on your foot, we recommend seeking advice from a health care professional (such as a GP or suitably experienced podiatrist ) as soon as possible. Prompt attention will allow treatment to start early, giving you the best chance of faster and more successful healing.

Unfortunately, foot ulcers that progress to more advanced stages may become infected and can ultimately result in amputation. The personal impact of amputation is of course significant, resulting in reduced mobility, and often a sense of dependence and isolation.

With best practice treatment, and ongoing management, 80% of amputations are preventable.

The good news is that there are several preventative steps you can take yourself to help reduce the chances of developing a diabetic foot ulcer. Likewise, if you already have a foot ulcer, we also provide advice on seeking treatment support. Please click here to visit the Caring for Your Feet section of this website.