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Diabetic Foot

Alternative name: Foot Care for Diabetics

What is a diabetic foot?

The term refers to foot problems caused directly by diabetes, such as a decreased ability to feel pain in the foot. Additionally, people with diabetes can also have a weakened immune system, limiting the body's ability to fight off infection in the foot when it occurs. Severe infections of the foot can sometimes lead to amputation, in order to save the patient's life.

What are the signs and symptoms of diabetic foot?

  • Lack of feeling in the foot
  • Dull or sharp pain in the foot
  • Swelling of the foot or leg
  • Redness can be a sign of infection, especially when surrounding a wound, or a place where the foot has been rubbed by shoes or socks
  • Loss of hair on the lower leg, often with the skin becoming hard and shiny
  • Warmth in specific parts of the foot can be a sign of infection
  • Fever or chills associated with a foot wound that is not healing

What causes diabetic foot?

With some cases of diabetes, damage to the nerves and blood vessels occurs in the foot, reducing the ability to feel properly. A diabetic may not notice a small sore or injury to their foot because of the lack of feeling.

Problems can begin from any small sore or injury to the foot, most especially:

  • Blister that becomes a large sore
  • A simple cut that goes untreated
  • Ingrown toenails
  • Small wounds from rubbing shoes or socks

How does a doctor tell if a patient has diabetic foot?

The doctor will take some of the following steps to see if a patient has diabetic foot:

  • Take a medical history to confirm the relationship to diabetes
  • Perform a physical examination to see if sensation is normal and to check for signs of infection
  • Order lab tests if necessary to check your blood cell count
  • Request X-rays to get a better sense of any bone damage
  • Arrange for an ultrasound to see the blood flow through the arteries and veins
  • Make a study of the circulation in your legs and possibly consult with another specialist

How is diabetic foot treated?

If you think you may be suffering from diabetic foot, you should see a doctor to confirm you have the condition. If your case of diabetic foot is not too advanced, your doctor may just ask you to start a regular, self-treatment program for diabetic foot care.

Treatment from the doctor for diabetic foot will depend on the kind of problems you are having. Here are some examples of common treatments:

  • If you have an infected foot, the doctor may take a sample of the wound in order to find out what bacteria is causing the infection
  • Antibiotics may be prescribed depending on the type of infection
  • Surgery may be required to remove infected tissue or to increase the blood flow to the foot
  • A cast or special shoe may be required to protect the foot and wound
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