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Diabetes: Take Care from Head to Toe

Diabetes: Take Care from Head to Toe

Most of us could use a head-to-toe checkup now and then. For people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, however, it is important to get a head and toe checkup at least once a year.

Nearly 26 million people in this country have diabetes, according to the latest statistics from the American Diabetes Association (ADA). For them, eyes and feet can be potential trouble spots.

The ADA recommends an eye exam and a foot exam by a medical professional each year. Diabetes can cause eye problems that could lead to blindness if left untreated. And when diabetes causes poor circulation and nerve problems in the feet, sufferers can develop wounds that are difficult to heal.

Keeping your blood sugar levels and blood pressure under control helps prevent eye and foot disease from getting worse. You should also avoid tobacco. 

Eye to eye

Diabetes is a leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults ages 20 to 74. The ADA recommends that people with type 1 diabetes have a dilated and comprehensive eye exam by an ophthalmologist or optometrist within five years of diagnosis of diabetes, and people with type 2 diabetes should have this exam shortly after their diagnosis. People with diabetes should continue with routine eye exams every year.

Loss of vision can result from a condition known as diabetic retinopathy, in which the delicate blood vessels in the back of the eye swell and bleed.

During the eye exam, an ophthalmologist can look into each eye and check along the inner back wall for damage.

On your feet

The ADA says the risk for ulcers or amputations increases in people who have had diabetes more than 10 years. The risk is also higher for men. It increases for people who don't have good control of their blood sugar and for those with heart and blood vessel disease, eye, or kidney complications.

Diabetes can decrease blood flow and damage nerves in the feet. Common scrapes and bumps of everyday life can end up causing serious problems such as tissue death, if the wounds do not heal properly. The decrease in blood flow also affects the healing process. This can lead to infection and, in the worst cases, amputation.

Follow these healthy "footsteps":

  • Check daily for calluses, cuts, or cracks in the skin and look for signs of infection, like redness, swelling, warmth, or discharge.

  • Use a mirror, if necessary, to look at the bottoms of your feet.

  • Keep feet clean. Do not use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. They dry out skin.

  • Be careful when soaking feet in hot water. Nerve damage decreases sensitivity to temperature. You could accidentally burn yourself.

  • Do not go barefoot outdoors. Indoors, wear slippers or sandals if you don't want to wear shoes.

  • Make sure all footwear fits properly. Wear soft, thick socks with no seams. Seams can rub the skin and cause blisters. 

  • Do not cut calluses yourself. See your doctor, who also can check for ingrown toenails and other potential problems.

  • Have a comprehensive foot exam by your doctor every year.

The ADA and the American Podiatric Medical Association recommend that you call or see your health care provider if you have cuts or breaks in the skin, have an ingrown nail, if your foot changes color or shape, or if it becomes less sensitive. See your health care provider immediately if you detect a new sore or if your foot becomes swollen, red, or painful.  

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