Watch Your Feet If You Have Diabetes

Diabetes is a condition that allows extra sugar to build up in the blood.  Up to 33 percent of all people with diabetes will have skin problems related to their condition at some time in their lives.


These skin conditions are not unique to diabetes.  But having diabetes makes it harder for skin to heal when it becomes damaged or infected.

Normally when we eat, the body converts foods such as carbohydrates into sugar.  This sugar, which is also known as glucose, is carried by the blood to all parts of the body.  Insulin works to transfer glucose out of the blood and into the cells where it supplies energy for body functions.

Diabetes results when the body does not produce enough insulin to move sugar from the blood to the cells or when the cells are not able to use the insulin to access the sugar.

Over time, this excess sugar causes damage to small blood vessels and nerves throughout the body which can lead to skin problems, especially on the feet.  If you have nerve damage, you may not notice that you have a sore such as a cut or blister on your feet.

If you don’t feel that the area is painful, you won’t realize you need to treat the cut or wear different shoes to help the area heal.  This lack of sensation caused by nerve damage is known as diabetic neuropathy.

Diabetes can also cause poor blood flow to the feet and legs.  This makes it harder for a cut or infection to heal.  Smoking when you have diabetes can make blood flow problems even worse and slow healing even more.

Extra sugar in your blood caused by diabetes can also act as food for germs.  So if a cut or sore on your foot gets infected, the germs can use the extra sugar to spread the infection faster and farther than normal, making it even harder for the area to heal.

If an infection becomes very serious and will not heal, it may result in gangrene which causes the skin and surrounding tissue to die. Tissue around the area can turn black and have a very bad odor.  To stop the spread of gangrene, the doctor may have to surgically remove the dead tissue, which may include amputation of toes, a foot, or part of the leg.

You can help prevent infection and other skin problems on your feet with a few simple steps each day:

  • Check your feet – Examine your feet every day.  Look for red or irritated spots where shoes might rub.  Also look for blisters, cuts, calluses, or other problems where infections could get started.  If you can’t see your own feet, use a mirror or ask someone to help you check them.
  • Wash in warm water –Check the temperature so the water isn’t too hot and wash with a mild soap.  Dry your feet carefully, including between your toes.  Use talcum powder or corn starch between your toes to keep them dry.
  • Keep skin soft – If your feet are too dry, use a good quality lotion to moisturize them.  Cracks caused by dry skin can allow germs into the area and cause infection.  Do not use lotion between your toes.
  • Trim your toenails – Keep your toenails trimmed and shaped so shoes don’t put pressure on them and cause an ingrown nail.
  • Always wear shoes or slippers – Protect your feet from cuts and other injuries by not going barefoot.
  • Always wear socks – Socks or stockings can help prevent blisters caused when shoes rub on bare skin.
  • Check your shoes – If you have reduced feeling in your feet, check your shoes for rocks and things inside that could poke or rub your feet before you put the shoes on.
  • Make sure shoes fit – Buy good quality shoes that fit well.  Break shoes in carefully before wearing them for a full day.

If you have diabetes, every foot injury is a cause for concern.  If you have any sores or blisters on your feet, watch them carefully for signs of infection. If they do not begin to heal within a few days, see your healthcare provider.   People with diabetes should have their feet examined by a doctor at least once a year.  Remind yourself and your doctor to check your feet by removing your shoes and socks every time you go in for a check-up.


Denise DeWitt is a freelance writer for




American Diabetes Assocation. Living With Diabetes: Skin Complications. Web. February 13, 2012.



National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Prevent diabetes problems: Keep your feet and skin healthy. Web. February 13, 2012.



Mayo Clinic. Amputation and Diabetes: How to protect your feet. Web. February 13, 2012.


Reviewed on February 15, 2012

by Maryann Gromisch, RN

Edited by Jody Smith



Tags: diabetic neuropathy,Diabetes skin problems,diabetes skin conditions,diabetes and feet,diabetes and blood flow

Category: Prevention