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Diabetes Health Center

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How Diabetes Causes Foot Problems - Topic Overview

Many things work together to cause foot problems in people who have diabetes, especially poor circulation and nerve disease (neuropathy). Neuropathy significantly dulls awareness of your feet, making you more susceptible to extensive injury-related damage. Also, diabetes can impair your ability to heal by both damaging your immune system and decreasing the blood flow in your legs.

If your vision has been affected by diabetic retinopathy or other eye problems, you may not see an injury or infection in your feet early. If you get a foot infection or injury, you may not notice it until your condition is so serious that you require surgery, possibly amputation.

Who's at risk?

Things that increase your risk for diabetic foot problems include:

  • Poor blood glucose control. If your blood sugar levels are persistently above the target range, you are more likely to have foot problems.
  • Age. The risk increases with age.
  • Gender. Males are at higher risk.
  • Race. African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans are at higher risk.
  • Duration of diabetes. The longer you have the disease, the greater your risk.
  • Other complications due to diabetes (small blood vessel disease, atherosclerosis of large vessels). If you already have other diabetic complications, you are more likely to have foot problems.
  • Smoking. Smoking contributes to circulatory problems in your extremities, increasing your likelihood of developing foot problems.
  • Peripheral neuropathy (damage to the nerves that control sensation and touch). Peripheral neuropathy results in poor sensation in your extremities, increasing your likelihood of having foot problems.
  • Alcohol dependence. Long-term heavy drinking can cause numbness and tingling in your hands and feet.
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