Diabetes and Foot Problems

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

Type 2 Diabetes: Learn the Warning Signs

Quick GuideHow Diabetes Can Affect Your Feet

How Diabetes Can Affect Your Feet

How are foot problems caused by diabetes treated?

Treatment depends upon the type of foot problem. For example, some problems such as corns may require wearing corrective shoes, while others such as mild infections may be treated with antibiotics or antifungals. Other problems may need surgical debridement and antibiotics. Gangrene, or tissue death, cannot be reversed, but treatments are available to prevent gangrene (often termed dry gangrene) from spreading or becoming infected (dry gangrene becomes infected and develops into wet gangrene). Surgical removal of the dead tissue is typically required, and antibiotics are given to prevent the development of life-threatening infections in the dead tissue. In severe cases of gangrene, amputation of the affected part may be necessary.

Other types of foot problems can be relieved by proper footwear, sometimes with orthotic devices, and splinting or bracing. For some conditions like hammertoes, bunions, and ingrown toenails; surgery may be necessary to correct severe cases.

Taking proper care of your feet (see Prevention section) can help prevent or relieve many common foot problems in people with diabetes.

Can diabetes-related foot problems be prevented?

Some diabetes foot-related problems can be prevented by taking careful steps to observe and care for your feet. Keeping blood sugar levels under control (in the ranges advised by your doctor), and following your recommended diet and exercise program are the best way to prevent all complications of diabetes, including foot problems. In addition to keeping your diabetes under control, you can take steps to care for your feet, including the following:

  • Wear comfortable, closed-toe footwear at all times. Special shoes are available for people with bunions or foot deformities if these are necessary. Be sure no objects are trapped inside the shoes that could cut or injure your feet.
  • Don't walk barefoot, even at home. Be sure your feet do not get burned by walking on very hot pavement in summer
  • Always wash your feet with warm water and dry them well after washing.
  • Check your feet daily for any sores or problems.
  • Apply lotion to dry areas, especially heels, but don't use lotion between the toes. Corns and calluses can be lightly smoothed with a pumice stone. Never use scissors or razors to cut away corns or calluses.
  • Trim toenails straight across, and do not cut the corners shorter than the rest of the nail.
  • Be sure that your doctor checks your feet at every checkup.
  • Stop smoking, if you are a smoker. Smoking further increases the risk of arteriosclerosis and poor circulation to the feet.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/3/2016

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