TMH Living Well: Treat diabetic foot problems early on
If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, no doubt you’ve gone through quite a bit of life adjustments. Diabetes demands daily care and a shift in lifestyle habits toward healthy eating and regular exercise. It’s a lot to take on, but it’s well worth it. Keeping your diabetes in check means you’ll likely be able to prevent or delay the onset of complications that can result from unmanaged diabetes.
“A lot of problems that manifest with diabetes are first seen in the foot,” said Dr. Derek D. Harper, podiatrist with The Memorial Hospital.
Dr. Gerald Myers, internal medicine physician and cardiologist with TMH Medical Clinic, agreed about the disease’s many ramifications.
“As it advances, it can affect several internal organs, including the kidneys, coronary arteries and peripheral nerves. When these organs are compromised, renal failure, heart attacks and nerve pain in the feet and hands can ensue,” Myers said.
According to the American Diabetes Association, foot problems come in all shapes and sizes and cause symptoms from tingling and pain to weakness in the foot or loss of feeling in the foot. Complications include neuropathy (nerve damage), skin changes, calluses, foot ulcers and poor circulation. Podiatrists treat all types of diabetic foot problems.
What’s tricky is that neuropathy, or nerve damage, can make it harder for you to feel pain, heat or cold. For example, you could have a stone in your shoe all day and not know it, or have a blister and not realize it. These instances can break down skin and cause it to become infected.
“In New Mexico, where I worked as a podiatrist, I had patients who would get a goat head thorn in their shoe without realizing it. Stepping on the thorn all day would cause an ulcer,” Harper said.
Poor blood flow that’s common with diabetes can complicate the healing of ulcers or skin infections of the foot. When needed, podiatrists work in coordination with cardiologists to open up the arteries to the foot and bring blood flowing into the foot to aid healing. Signs of poor blood flow and nerves that are not working well include tingling, burning and numbness in your feet.
“To maintain foot health, I work with patients to prevent nerve damage and ulcers. Diabetics are also prone to ankle fractures, which I can treat with a minimally invasive surgery that helps stabilize the bone,” Harper said.
The first line of treatment for early stage diabetic foot problems is applying a topical analgesic to relieve pain. With more advanced problems, Harper recommends exercises to generate nerve growth and vitamins to support nerves, among other treatments. As a last resort, surgery may be needed.
Besides keeping your diabetes under control there are other things you can do to avoid foot problems. No. 1, don’t smoke, as smoking makes arteries harden faster, limiting blood flow. Next, exercise daily as it stimulates blood flow. Finally, keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check. Remember, the best treatment for diabetic foot problems is prevention.
“The hope is that if someone has diabetes they have a primary care physician or internist who is helping to manage it and keep it under control. By managing diabetes and receiving regular foot check ups, there’s a good chance people can avoid advanced foot problems with diabetes,” Harper said.
Dr. Harper recently joined The Memorial Hospital and is the sole podiatrist in the region. He sees patients at both TMH Medical Clinic and The Steamboat Specialty Clinic and resides in Craig. For an appointment, call 970-826-2465.
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