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Keep Your Feet and Skin Healthy: NIDDK

Article title: Keep Your Feet and Skin Healthy: NIDDK

Conditions: diabetes, corns, blisters, Ingrown toenails, bunions, Plantar warts (type of Warts), Hammertoes, Athlete's foot

Source: NIDDK



What are diabetes problems?

Too much sugar in the blood for a long time causes diabetes problems. This high blood sugar can damage many parts of the body, such as the heart, blood vessels, and kidneys. Diabetes problems can be scary, but there is a lot you can do to prevent them or slow them down.

This booklet is about feet and skin problems caused by diabetes. You will learn the things you can do each day and during each year to stay healthy and prevent diabetes problems.

High blood sugar can cause feet and skin problems.


What should I do each day to stay healthy with diabetes?

Follow the healthy eating plan that you and your doctor or dietitian have worked out. Eat your meals and snacks at around the same times each day.
Be active a total of 30 minutes most days. Ask your doctor what activities are best for you.
Take your diabetes medicine at the same times each day.
Check your blood sugar every day. Each time you check your blood sugar, write the number in your record book. Call your doctor if your numbers are too high or too low for 2 to 3 days.
Check your feet every day for cuts, blisters, sores, swelling, redness, or sore toenails.
Brush and floss your teeth and gums every day.
Don't smoke.


How can diabetes hurt my feet?

High blood sugar from diabetes causes two problems that can hurt your feet:

  1. Nerve damage. One problem is damage to nerves in your legs and feet. With damaged nerves, you might not feel pain, heat, or cold in your legs and feet. You might let a sore or cut on your foot get worse because you do not know it is there. This lack of feeling is called diabetic neuropathy (ne-ROP-uh-thee). It can lead to a large sore or infection.

  2. Poor blood flow. The second problem happens when not enough healthy blood flows to your legs and feet. Poor blood flow makes it hard for a sore or infection to heal. This problem is called peripheral (puh-RIF-uh-rul) vascular disease. Smoking when you have diabetes makes blood flow problems much worse.

Make sure you wear shoes that fit well.

These two problems can work together to cause a foot problem.

For example, you get a blister from shoes that do not fit. You do not feel the pain from the blister because you have nerve damage in your foot. Next, the blister gets infected. If blood sugar is high, the extra sugar feeds the germs. Germs grow and the infection gets worse. Poor blood flow to your legs and feet can slow down healing. Once in a while a bad infection never heals. The infection might cause gangrene (GANG-green). If a person has gangrene, the skin and tissue around the sore die. The area becomes black and smelly.

To keep gangrene from spreading, a doctor may have to do surgery to cut off a toe, foot, or part of a leg. Cutting off a body part is called an amputation (amp-yoo-TAY-shun).



What can I do to take care of my feet?



Look at your feet
every day to check
for problems.
  • Wash your feet in warm water every day. Make sure the water is not too hot by testing the temperature with your elbow. Do not soak your feet. Dry your feet well, especially between your toes.
  • Look at your feet every day to check for sores, blisters, redness, calluses, or other problems. Checking every day is even more important if you have nerve damage or poor blood flow. If you cannot bend over or pull your foot up to check your feet, use a mirror. If you cannot see well, ask someone else to check your feet.
  • If your skin is dry, rub lotion on your feet after you wash and dry them. Do not put lotion between your toes.
  • File corns and calluses gently with an emery board or pumice stone. Do this after your bath or shower. Move the emery board in only one direction.
  • Cut your toenails once a week. Cut toenails when they are soft from washing. Cut them to the shape of the toe and not too short. Do not cut into the corners because you might cut the skin. Sharp edges can make a sore that can get infected. File toenails with an emery board. If you cannot cut your own toenails, ask someone who can or go to a foot doctor.
  • Always wear shoes or slippers. Never walk barefoot, even when you are at home.
    Always wear slippers or shoes to protect your feet.
  • Always wear socks or stockings. Do not wear socks or knee-high stockings that are too tight below your knee.
  • Wear shoes that fit well. Buy shoes made of canvas or leather. Shop for shoes at the end of the day when your feet are bigger. Break in shoes slowly. Wear them 1 to 2 hours each day for the first 1 to 2 weeks.
  • Only use medicines your doctor tells you to use.



How can I get my doctor to help me take care of my feet?

  • Tell your doctor right away about any foot problems.

    Take off your shoes and socks so your doctor will check your feet.
  • Ask your doctor to look at your feet at each diabetes checkup. To make sure your doctor checks your feet, take off your shoes and socks before your doctor comes into the room.
  • Ask your doctor to check how well the nerves in your feet sense feeling.
  • Ask your doctor to check how well blood is flowing to your legs and feet.
  • Ask your doctor to show you the best way to trim your toenails. Ask what lotion or cream to use on your legs and feet.
  • If you cannot cut your toenails or you have a foot problem, ask your doctor to send you to a foot doctor. A doctor who cares for feet is called a podiatrist (puh-DY-uh-trist).



What are common diabetes foot problems?

Anyone can have corns, blisters, and athlete's foot. If you have diabetes and your blood sugar stays high, these foot problems can lead to infections.

Corns and calluses are thick layers of skin caused by too much rubbing or pressure on the same spot. Corns and calluses can become infected.

Blisters can form if shoes always rub the same spot. Wearing shoes that do not fit or wearing shoes without socks can cause blisters. Blisters can become infected.

Ingrown toenails happen when an edge of the nail grows into the skin. The skin can get red and infected. Ingrown toenails can happen if you cut into the corners of your toenails when you trim them. If toenail edges are sharp, smooth them with an emery board. You can also get an ingrown toenail if your shoes are too tight.

A bunion forms when your big toe slants toward the small toes and the place between the bones near the base of your big toe grows big. This spot can get red, sore, and infected. Bunions can form on one or both feet. Pointy shoes may cause bunions. Bunions often run in the family. Surgery can remove bunions.

Plantar warts are caused by a virus. The warts usually form on the bottoms of the feet and tend to go away without treatment.


Hammertoes form when a foot muscle gets weak. The weakness may be from diabetic nerve damage. The weakened muscle makes the tendons in the foot shorter and makes the toes curl under the feet. You may get sores on the bottoms of your feet and on the tops of your toes. The feet can change their shape. Hammertoes can cause problems with walking and finding shoes that fit well. Hammertoes can run in the family. Wearing shoes that are too short can also cause hammertoes.

Dry and cracked skin can happen because the nerves in your legs and feet do not get the message to keep your skin soft and moist. Dry skin can become cracked and allow germs to enter. If your blood sugar is high, sugar feeds the germs and makes the infection worse.



Athlete's foot is a fungus that causes redness and cracking of the skin. It is itchy. The cracks between the toes allow germs to get under the skin. If blood sugar is high, the sugar feeds the germs and makes the infection worse. The infection can spread to the toenails and make them thick, yellow, and hard to cut.

All of these foot problems can be taken care of. Tell your doctor about any foot problem as soon as you see it.



How can special shoes help my feet?

Special shoes can be made to fit softly around your sore feet or feet that have changed shape. These special shoes help protect your feet. Medicare and other health insurance programs may pay for special shoes. Talk to your doctor about how and where to get them.


How can diabetes hurt my skin?

Drinking fluids helps keep your skin moist and healthy.

Diabetes can hurt your skin in two ways:

  1. If your blood sugar is high, your body loses fluid. With less fluid in your body, your skin can get dry. Dry skin can be itchy, causing you to scratch and make it sore. Also, dry skin can crack. Cracks allow germs to enter and cause infection. If your blood sugar is high, the sugar feeds germs and makes infections worse. Skin can get dry on your legs, feet, elbows, and other places on your body.

  2. Skin can also get dry because the nerves in your legs and feet do not get the message to sweat. Sweating helps keep your skin soft and moist.



What can I do to take care of my skin?

  • After you wash with a mild soap, make sure you rinse and dry yourself well. Check places where water can hide, such as under the arms, under the breasts, between the legs, and between the toes.
    Keep your skin moist by washing with a mild soap and using lotion or cream after you wash.
  • Keep your skin moist by using a lotion or cream after you wash. Ask your doctor to suggest one.
  • Drink lots of fluids, such as water, to keep your skin moist and healthy.
  • Wear all-cotton underwear. Cotton allows air to move around your body better.
  • Look at your body after you wash. Make sure you have no dry, red, or sore spots that might lead to an infection.
  • Tell your doctor about any skin problems.



For more information

Diabetes Teachers (nurses, dietitians, pharmacists, and other health professionals)

To find a diabetes teacher near you, call the
American Association of Diabetes Educators
toll-free at 1-800-TEAMUP4 (1-800-832-6874),
or look on the Internet at https://www.aadenet.org/ and
click on "Find an Educator."

Recognized Diabetes Education Programs (teaching programs approved by the American Diabetes Association)

To find a program near you, call toll-free at
1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383), or
see www.diabetes.org/education/edustate2.asp
on the Internet.

Dietitians

To find a dietitian near you, call the American
Dietetic Association's National Center for
Nutrition and Dietetics toll-free at
1-800-366-1655, or look on the Internet at
https://www.eatright.org/ and click on "Find a Dietitian."

Government

The National Institute of Arthritis and
Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)
is part of the National Institutes of Health. To
learn more about feet and skin problems, write
or call the National Institute of Arthritis and
Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Information Clearinghouse, 1 AMS Circle, Bethesda, MD
20892-3675, (301) 495-4484; or see
www.nih.gov/niams on the Internet.

More in the series

The "Prevent Diabetes Problems" series includes seven booklets that can help you learn more about how to prevent diabetes problems.


For free single printed copies of these booklets, call, write, fax, or email the

National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse
1 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3560

Phone: (301) 654-3327
Fax: (301) 907-8906
Email: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/tools/mail_ndic.htm

Acknowledgments

The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse thanks the people who helped review or field-test this booklet.

For American Association of Diabetes
Educators
Lynn Grieger, R.D., C.D.E.
Arlington, VT
Celia Levesque, R.N., C.D.E.
Montgomery, AL
Teresa McMahon, Pharm.D., C.D.E.
Seattle, WA
Barbara Schreiner, R.N., M.N., C.D.E.
Galveston, TX

For American Diabetes Association
Phyllis Barrier, M.S., R.D., C.D.E.
Alexandria, VA
Linda Haas, Ph.C., R.N., C.D.E.
Seattle, WA
Kathleen Mahoney, M.S.N., R.N., C.D.E.
Drexel Hill, PA
Randi Kington, M.S., R.N., C.S., C.D.E.
Hartford, CT

Diabetes Research and Training Center
Albert Einstein School of Medicine
Norwalk Hospital
Norwalk, CT
Jill Ely, R.N., C.D.E.
Sam Engel, M.D.
Pam Howard, A.P.R.N., C.D.E.

Diabetes Research and Training Center
Indiana University
School of Medicine
Indianapolis, IN
Madelyn Wheeler, M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A., C.D.E.

Diabetes Research and Training Center
VA/JDF Diabetes Research Center
Vanderbilt School of Medicine
Nashville, TN
Ok Chon Allison, M.S.N., R.N.C.S., A.N.P., C.D.E.
Barbara Backer, B.S.
James W. Pichert, Ph.D.
Alvin Powers, M.D.
Melissa E. Schweikhart
Michael B. Smith
Kathleen Wolffe, R.N.

Grady Health System
Diabetes Clinic
Atlanta, GA
Ernestine Baker, R.N., F.N.P., C.D.E.
Kris Ernst, R.N., C.D.E.
Margaret Fowke, R.D., L.D.
Kay Mann, R.N., C.D.E.

Health Care Financing
Administration
Baltimore, MD
Jan Drass, R.N., C.D.E.

Indian Health Service
Albuquerque, NM
Ruth Bear, R.D., C.D.E.
Dorinda Bradley, R.N., C.D.E.
Terry Fisher, R.N.
Lorraine Valdez, R.N., C.D.E.

Indian Health Service
Red Lake, MN
Charmaine Branchaud, B.S.N., R.N., C.D.E.

Medlantic Research Center
Washington, DC
Resa Levetan, M.D.

Texas Diabetes Council
Texas Department of Health
Austin, TX
Luby Garza-Abijaoude, M.S., R.D., L.D.


 

National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse

1 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3560
Phone: (301) 654-3327
Fax: (301) 907-8906
Email: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/tools/mail_ndic.htm

The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). NIDDK is part of the National Institutes of Health under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Established in 1978, the clearinghouse provides information about diabetes to people with diabetes and to their families, health care professionals, and the public. NDIC answers inquiries; develops, reviews, and distributes publications; and works closely with professional and patient organizations and Government agencies to coordinate resources about diabetes.

Publications produced by the clearinghouse are carefully reviewed for scientific accuracy, content, and readability.

This e-text is not copyrighted. The clearinghouse encourages users of this e-pub to duplicate and distribute as many copies as desired.



NIH Publication No. 00-4282
May 2000

e-text posted: August 2000

 

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