What is diabetic foot problems?

Diabetic Foot Problems
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How are diabetic foot problems treated?

Foot problems from diabetes are treated by keeping blood sugar levels in your target range. Other types of treatment include medicine, special shoes, and surgery.

Treatment for foot ulcers includes keeping weight off your injured foot. A cast or special boot, shoe inserts, crutches, a wheelchair, or bed rest may be used. Foot infections are treated with antibiotics.

Sometimes an ulcer or infection becomes severe and the tissue in the foot dies (gangrene). If this happens, toes, part or all of the foot, and sometimes part of the leg may be removed (amputated).

Bone and joint deformities can develop on the feet, such as hammer, claw, and mallet toes or Charcot foot. Surgery may be needed to remove bone that is causing these problems.

Check your feet regularly for small injuries. Tell your doctor right away about calluses, blisters, cracked or peeling skin, and athlete's foot. And get regular foot exams.

When would amputation be needed for diabetic foot ulcers and infections?

If you have diabetes, a minor foot injury, like a blister, can develop into an ulcer or serious infection.

Infections of the feet can spread to the leg. Sometimes the infection is so severe that toes, the foot, or part of the leg must be removed by surgery (amputation).

Amputations are done if the foot or leg can't be saved or if there is major tissue damage. Doctors save as much of the foot or leg as possible. They try to make sure that the remaining part of the limb will heal to avoid more surgeries.

If you need an amputation, talk to your doctor about the benefits. Amputation can relieve pain, as well as get rid of the infection and the need for strong antibiotics. A serious infection can be life-threatening. An amputation may save your life.

Having an amputation can be difficult. If you want support, ask your doctor about counseling.

What puts you at risk for diabetic foot problems?

Things that increase your risk for diabetic foot problems include:

  • Poor blood sugar control. If your blood sugar levels are almost always above the target range, you are more likely to have foot problems.
  • Duration of diabetes. The longer you have the disease, the greater your risk.
  • Other problems due to diabetes (small blood vessel disease, atherosclerosis of large vessels). If you already have other problems caused by diabetes, you are more likely to have foot problems.
  • Smoking. Smoking can lead to blood flow problems in your extremities, such as your toes or feet. This increases your risk of developing foot problems.
  • Peripheral neuropathy (damage to the nerves that control sensation and touch). Peripheral neuropathy results in the loss of feeling in your toes or feet, making you more likely to have foot problems.

What are diabetic foot problems?

Diabetic foot problems are injuries to your feet caused by diabetes. Diabetes can damage nerves in your feet. This can make your feet numb and change how you walk. You may not feel a blister, callus, or other foot injury. Without treatment, a small injury can become a larger sore (ulcer) or get infected.

Foot Problems Checklist

Pictures of right foot
Pictures of left foot

Take a copy of this checklist with you when you visit your doctor or foot specialist (podiatrist). Because you have diabetes, your doctor needs to do a thorough foot exam at least once a year. Ask your doctor to look at your feet more often if you have blisters, sores, redness or swelling in your feet. Also ask your doctor to look at your toenails if they are thick, cracked, yellow or brown, or broken.

Take off your shoes and socks while you are waiting in the exam room.

Questions I have about foot care:




Problems I have noticed:

Describe each problem:

On these pictures, mark the area of your foot where the problem is.

Right foot

Left foot

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.