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The Effect of Diabetes on your Foot Health

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes Mellitus is a chronic condition where our cells cannot effectively convert sugar (glucose) into energy. When our bodies cannot maintain healthy levels of glucose, which is our main source of energy, excessive amounts of unused glucose are stored. This can lead to health impacts later in life, such as an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, kidney and eye issues, as well as foot complications.

How does diabetes affect us?

One of the main hormones in our bodies, insulin, has the role of ensuring that glucose is converted into energy for our bodies to use. In an individual with diabetes, the role of insulin is inhibited and, therefore, glucose is stored in our bodies without being utilised. The extra stored glucose can have short and long-term effects on our health. In the early stages of diabetes, these effects will likely go unnoticed, which include increased blood pressure, cramping, blurred vision and excessive thirst. This is why diabetes is known as the ‘silent killer’, as these effects cumulate from years of excess glucose stored in our bodies.

The way in which the role of insulin is inhibited defines the main types of diabetes individuals can have:

  • Type 1 Diabetes: Our bodies are unable to produce insulin as our immune system attacks our pancreas, which is responsible for producing insulin.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: Our bodies do not produce enough insulin, or they are unable to use insulin effectively to convert glucose into energy.

How Diabetes affects our feet:

With long – term and uncontrollable blood sugar levels, our feet are often the first parts of our bodies to be affected. This is because they contain the smallest blood vessels and nerves that get affected first. Often, this will lead to reduced blood flow to our feet, which may impair an individual’s sensation and healing rates from injuries. Therefore, individuals with diabetes are at an increased risk of amputation of the lower limb, as according to Diabetes Australia, approximately 4400 amputations result from each year from diabetes. Severe foot complications may result if blood sugar levels are not managed well:

  • Reduced Blood Flow: As a result of uncontrollable sugar levels, circulation to our feet is reduced. This can lead to impaired wound healing and an increased risk of infection for any wounds that arise.
  • Loss of Sensation: With reduced blood flow to our feet, the nerves to our toes become affected as they do not have adequate blood flow to function properly. Over time, this can lead to a condition called peripheral neuropathy, where an individual loses their protective sensation to their feet. This places them at a higher risk of developing a foot ulcer.
  • Fungal Nail infections: Individuals with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing fungal nails. Along with reduced blood flow, there are not enough nutrients reaching our nails to help grow and function properly. This allows them to become thickened and distorted over time.

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