Diabetes impact can be devastating

Jay Roy

MARQUETTE — Diabetes mellitus is on the rise. We all know someone who has to deal with the potentially devastating effects of this disease. One of the complications of diabetes is cardiovascular disease, increasing risk of heart attacks and strokes. Other complications are neuropathy, kidney damage, skin conditions, hearing and vision problems, and perhaps, even a connection to Alzheimers.

Because of a combination of these complications, amputation of toes, foot or even more of the lower extremity is one of the most serious outcomes. Approximately 60 percent of new amputees have diabetes. This happens due to neuropathy, poor circulation and lifestyle choices. Neuropathy is a tingling or numbness, sometimes painful, as sensation is lost due to damage to the nerves in the toes or fingers. If a person with diabetes injures their foot, it doesn’t hurt as much as it would without neuropathy. I’ve had people walk into my office unaware that they have a needle stuck in their foot! Add poor circulation and it doesn’t heal well or quickly. Next is infection, and, if wound care treatment is not successful, amputation.

The good news is that this can be avoided. Firstly, work with your doctor on a healthy diet, exercise and medication to control the diabetes. I’m addressing the preventative care that every person with diabetes should consider.

1. Put aside your denial. If you have neuropathy, don’t trust how something “feels.” Substitute eyesight, yours or someone else’s, to check your feet at least once a day. An accident is something that you don’t plan on, (like stubbing your toe in the dark, or embedding a stray staple in the bottom of your foot). Create new habits that keep you safe.

2. Never go barefoot or wear just socks. Whenever your feet are on the ground, wear something that provides toe protection and is thick enough on the bottom to withstand a thumbtack and keep it away from your foot.

3. Socks are necessary to prevent rubbing a sore on your foot. They should not be binding at the ankle, which creates swelling. Diabetic socks are widely available. They should be light colored, in case your foot is injured and there is a spot of blood, you will easily see it on the sock. Change your socks daily, more often if your feet sweat.

4. Shoes should be laced or have a Velcro closure with a wide toe box. The closure allows you to expand your shoe if there is swelling. No slip ons! The shoe should fit you without compressing the toes. Don’t trust how it feels. Have a professional fit you if in doubt. Thick callouses are dangerous.

5. Regularly see your podiatrist or family doctor and take off your shoes at that appointment.

Changes like these are difficult at first, but still easier than months of recovering from a sore on your foot. Avoid accidents and as a person with diabetes, you can reduce your chances of ever having to face the prospect of amputation.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jay Roy is a certified prosthetist and orthotist. He owns Northern Orthotics and Prosthetics.