Monday Medical: Prevent foot problems from diabetes

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— Blisters, corns, calluses, dry and cracked skin, and bunions: Our feet take a beating.

But what can be uncomfortable and inconvenient foot problems for some people are a serious health concern for individuals who have diabetes.

Monday Medical

Monday Medical columns publish weekly in the Steamboat Today's Yampa Valley Health section. Read more columns here.

Diabetes is characterized by high blood glucose levels resulting from problems in the body's production or use of insulin, the hormone that converts sugar, starches and other foods into energy.

Elevated blood glucose can cause health complications, including severe foot infections that, if untreated, can require amputation. Amputations in people with diabetes account for more than 60 percent of leg and foot amputations not resulting from injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, the agency also reports that more than half of diabetes-related amputations can be prevented with regular foot exams and patient education.

"With education and practicing good management, you can really reduce risks associated with diabetes and live a long, healthy life," said Pam Wooster, certified diabetes educator at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

Over time, high blood glucose damages nerves in the legs and feet, preventing a person from feeling pain, heat or cold. This lack of sensitivity, called neuropathy, can cause a person not to feel sores or cuts. Nerve damage can change the shape of feet, making a person more prone to blisters, sores or ulcers.

Elevated blood sugar also causes poor circulation to the legs and feet making it hard for the body to heal foot problems and fight infections.

“Minor foot problems can progress to something worse very quickly,” Wooster said. “When you see signs of slow healing or infection, seeking the help of your doctor immediately is very important.”

Good diabetes management should include the following steps to prevent foot infections:

• Have your feet checked by a health care provider at least four times per year. This is particularly important for older adults, who often have difficulty checking their own feet. The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association offers foot care clinics monthly in Steamboat Springs, Hayden, Oak Creek and Yampa. Registered nurses provide the service, which includes a foot inspection, toenail trim and foot massage. The cost is $20, and appointments are required. For more information, go to www.nwcovna.org or call 970-871-7676.

• Check your feet every day for red spots, cuts, swelling and blisters. If necessary, use a mirror to see the bottom of your feet. See your health care provider if you see any problems.

• Wash and moisturize your feet daily and be sure to dry the areas between your toes to prevent fungus growth. Trim your toenails straight across and file the edges with an emery board or nail file.

• Wear shoes that fit well. Break shoes in slowly, and before putting your shoes on, make sure they contain no sharp edges or objects. Always wear socks or stockings to avoid blisters.

• Protect your feet from hot and cold. Wear shoes at the beach or on hot pavement. Test water before putting your feet in, and don’t use hot water bottles, heating pads or electric blankets.

• Make good lifestyle choices. Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity exacerbate the effects of diabetes. Exercise daily to maintain a healthy weight and improve circulation.

• Keep your blood glucose in your target ranges. Work with your health care provider and a diabetes educator to manage your condition with proper nutrition and carbohydrate management, medication and exercise. The diabetes education program at Yampa Valley Medical Center provides personalized counseling to help individuals understand their specific conditions and how to take care of themselves to prevent complications.

To learn more, go to www.yvmc.org/diabetes or call 970-871-2352.

This article includes information from the American Diabetes Association, www.diabetes.org, and the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, www.diabetes.niddk.nih.gov.

Tamera Manzanares writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at tameramanza@gmail.com.

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