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Peripheral Neuropathy, Diabetes, and Your Feet

When you have peripheral neuropathy caused by diabetes, your feet and skin need extra care and attention.

Very small, repetitive injuries to the feet -- like those caused by poorly fitting shoes -- can lead to bigger problems, says Tom Elasy, MD, MPH, a diabetes researcher at the Diabetes Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. "Calluses, blisters, sores, infections, and foot ulcers may appear on numb areas of the foot, because pressure or injury goes unnoticed. This happens simply because you can't feel the problem."

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Also, people with uncontrolled diabetes have a hard time fighting infections. They may also have poor circulation that can lead to problems with healing. That means a minor cut in the skin could become an ulcer or develop into a serious infection. With good foot care, you can prevent most of these problems.

Inspect Feet Daily if You Have Diabetes

"We recommend that patients inspect their feet on a daily basis for cuts, any signs of redness, calluses, or blisters," says Elasy. "Using a little mirror can help. Also, it's important to moisturize. But avoid getting it between the toes, because that area is already moist. So extra moisture tends to cause fungal infections."

Even if you have diabetes, caring for your feet is easy. It's best to do it when you are bathing or getting ready for bed. And remember that good foot care also involves getting medical help early if a problem develops. It's very important to see your doctor for treatment right away -- to prevent serious complications like infections.

Here are good everyday foot care habits to follow:

  • Inspect feet daily. Wash your feet, and then thoroughly dry them. Use a handheld mirror (like a magnifying mirror) to inspect them. Look for blisters, cuts, cracks, dry skin, redness, tenderness, or sores on the skin, between the toes, and on the soles of your feet.
  • Powder in between your toes. This helps keep that moist skin dry and helps prevent fungal infections.
  • Rub lotion on feet and legs to prevent dry cracked skin. But don't put lotion between the toes because of the risk of fungal infections.
  • Keep nails trimmed. Use an emery board for filing so you don't hurt your skin.
  • Protect your feet. Always wear shoes or slippers to protect feet from injury. Don't use a heating pad or hot water bottle to warm your feet.
  • Get checkups at the doctor. On each visit, make sure the doctor inspects your feet.
  • Don't use corn removers or other drugstore foot treatments. These can be harmful. Let a doctor treat your foot problems.
  • Wear properly fitted shoes. Also, wear socks at all times to prevent injury.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on September 27, 2012

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