Diabetes is an illness where your blood glucose or blood sugar levels are too high. It is caused by the body not being able to process the sugar you consume.
Having too much glucose in your blood can lead to severe problems throughout the body. It can damage your nerves, kidneys, and eyes. Diabetes is also known to cause heart complications, strokes – and may even require you to amputate a limb.
How Diabetes Harms Your Lower Limbs
Over time, high levels of blood glucose can damage your nerves and blood vessels.
When nerve damage occurs due to diabetes, it is called diabetic neuropathy. It typically affects the extremities – your arms, hands, legs, and feet. When your nerves are damaged, you won’t feel the pain from cuts, ulcers (open sores), and infections.
Diabetes is also linked to a condition known as peripheral artery disease, or PAD. This condition narrows one’s arteries, which carry blood to the legs and feet. Not getting enough oxygenated blood can interfere with normal healing: wounds will heal more slowly and a cut or open wound may more quickly become infected.
Often, a diabetic with PAD and neuropathy won’t feel any pain that signals something is wrong with the feet or legs. This increases the risk that simple injuries become serious and may include the death of tissue (gangrene). To avoid the life-threatening spread of gangrene, your doctor may need to amputate the affected toe, foot, or leg.
Nobody wants to lose a limb. To avoid this tragic scenario, you’ll need to take proper care of your legs and feet. Here are some of the ways to do that:
- Wear protective gear. Wearing shoes, socks, and pants that cover your skin and protect them from external harm can go a long way.
- Do not smoke. Smoking damages blood vessels and can reduce blood flow to your legs and feet.
- Check for blisters, cuts, cracks, sores, or any wound on the surface of your legs and feet. Daily visual inspection of your legs and feet are a must if you are a diabetic. You’ll want to look out for discolored areas – whether red, white, or other – and corns or calluses. Any cuts or blisters may quickly worsen if not treated immediately.
- Notice the temperature of your feet and legs. If your feet or legs are cooler or warmer than usual, that might be a sign that something is wrong, such as a lack of proper blood flow or infection. If this is that case, see your foot doctor as soon as possible.
- Make sure to see a doctor every few months. The sooner any complications with your feet or legs are diagnosed and dealt with, the better.
Talk to a Professional
The thought of losing a limb is a very real threat if you have diabetes. The best way to avoid this is to care for your arms or legs and keep your blood sugar under control. But if you find yourself struggling to do this, consult a doctor. Go to a diabetes specialist or endocrinologist for help keeping your blood sugar under control. And go to a foot doctor or podiatrist to get checked for ulcers or other infections in your lower limbs.
The Orthopaedic Associates of Central Maryland can direct you to the professional that you need so you can get treated. Call (410) 644-1880 today to ask about OACM’s diabetic foot program. Alternatively, you can sign up through the online form to schedule an appointment.