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Diabetes: Tips for Daily Foot Care

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WebMD Feature

If you have diabetes, it's essential to make foot care part of your daily self-care routine.

That's because "people can develop complications before they realize they even have a problem," says Bresta Miranda-Palma, MD, a professor with the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School. "I've seen people walk on a nail for weeks until infection has developed."

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When feet and legs have nerve damage, a small cut or wound can go unnoticed. That's why it's critical to check for problems before they get infected and lead to serious complications -- like gangrene or amputation.

"Daily foot care is the most important thing," says Miranda-Palma. "About 85% of amputations can be prevented if the patient gets a wound treated in time."

That means checking your feet daily and seeing a foot doctor (podiatrist) every two or three months in order to catch problems early.

Diabetes: Tips for Regular Foot Care

Daily Care

  • Wash and dry your feet with mild soap and warm water. Dry your feet thoroughly, especially between the toes, an area more prone to fungal infections. Use lotion on your feet to prevent cracking, but don't put the lotion between your toes.
  • Do not soak feet, or you'll risk infection if the skin begins to break down. And if you have nerve damage, take care with water temperature. You risk burning your skin if you can't feel that the water is too hot.

Weekly Care

  • Trim toenails straight across with a nail clipper. You can prevent ingrown toenails if you don't round the corners of the nails or cut down the sides. Smooth the nails with an emery board.

Your Daily Foot Exam Checklist

Check the tops and bottoms of your feet, using a mirror if you need it; you can also ask someone else to check your feet for you. Also, be sure to get your feet examined at every doctor's visit.

When examining your feet, look for:

  • Cuts/scratches: Wash any you find with mild soap and water. Use antibiotic creams recommended by your doctor and apply sterile bandages to protect cuts. If your cut has redness, is oozing, or has a foul-smelling discharge, contact your doctor right away.
  • Ulcers: Minor scrapes or cuts that heal slowly -- or sores from badly-fitting shoes -- can become infected, causing ulcers. To prevent foot ulcers, treat scrapes or cuts right away. Talk to your doctor about any foot sores you have. It's important to get them treated immediately.
  • Dry skin: Use moisturizing soaps and lotions to keep your skin soft, but don't put lotion between toes; moisture there can cause fungus growth.
  • Blisters: If shoes don't fit properly, blisters can develop. Don't break a blister open, risking infection. Simply clean it and apply an antibacterial cream, then cover it with a bandage.
  • Cracking, itching, red skin between the toes are signs of athlete's foot fungus. Treat it right away to prevent further infection -- your doctor can recommend a pill or cream.
  • Corns/calluses: After every shower or bath smooth these with an emery board or pumice stone -- but don't try to remove a callus all at once, give it several attempts. Do not use drugstore remedies for corns and calluses and do not try to cut or remove a corn or callus.
  • Plantar warts: These painful callus look-alikes are caused by a virus and develop on the foot's underside. See a doctor for treatment.
  • Ingrown toenails: Trimming toenails regularly -- cutting only across the top -- helps prevent ingrown toenails. When toenails cut into the skin, pain, redness, and infection may result. See a doctor if you develop an ingrown toenail.
  • Discolored/yellowed toenails that are thick and brittle means you likely have a fungal nail infection. Your doctor can prescribe long-term medication to treat the infection and improve your nail's appearance.
  • Redness, warmth, swelling, or pain: These are symptoms of inflammation and infection. See a doctor right away.
  • Blue or black skin color indicates blood flow problems. If you're foot is cold and blue or black this is an emergency; get to a hospital immediately.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

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If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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