Diabetes is a serious condition that can lead to severe health problems if left untreated, but making sure you manage it can help you avoid the worst complications. Unfortunately, symptoms can be minor or easy to overlook until the condition has already become severe. It's important to monitor yourself for any potential signs of diabetes, and that means checking your feet for one serious symptom. Read on to find out what you should be looking for, and for more signs of trouble, If You Notice This on Your Nails, Get Your Thyroid Checked, Doctors Say.
Foot ulcers are very common in those who have diabetes, says Bruce Pinker, DPM, a board-certified podiatrist and foot surgeon who treats diabetic foot ulcers. According to Pinker, "Diabetes suppresses the immune system, reducing the body's response to stress, infection, and injury." This, in turn, makes it harder for those with diabetes to heal from a wound than those who do not have diabetes—which can lead to and exacerbate foot ulcers.
"In many cases, diabetics develop a breakdown of the skin on the bottom of the feet, especially in pressure point areas, such as the ball of the foot or the heel," Pinker explains. "Older individuals are more inclined to develop these pressure-based foot ulcers as the repetitive motion of walking for several years leads to increased stress in the feet." And for more health issues to be aware of, If You See This on Your Skin, Your Heart Attack Risk Is Higher, Study Says.
According to Danielle DesPrés, DPM, a board-certified foot and ankle surgeon and podiatrist with AdvantageCare Physicians, staining on your socks can be a sign of diabetic foot ulcers. "This is because foot ulcers are just like any other wound on the body—they tend to bleed, so the staining on the sock, which usually looks brown-ish, [could be] dried blood oozing from the ulcer site," DesPrés explains. Other signs of foot ulcers include a "strong malodorous smell coming from the bottom of the foot, as well as a sudden onset of swelling or redness of a particular foot," she adds. And for more signs of something serious, If This Happens When You Eat or Drink, You Need Your Thyroid Checked.
DesPrés says patients don't always notice that they have a wound or ulcer on their foot. This is because nerve damage, also known as neuropathy, is one of the "most common medical conditions associated with diabetes," she says—and this condition can cause feelings of burning, tingling, and numbness in the feet, which can mask the pain of ulcers and lead to a total loss of sensation in the foot.
Neyla Lobkova, DPM, a board-certified podiatrist from NYC, further explains that neuropathy "occurs when there is a prolonged period of uncontrolled diabetes," which means if you're experiencing this, you likely have not yet been diagnosed with diabetes and are unaware you even have this condition. "When this occurs, cuts, blisters, and areas of excess friction aren't able to be felt, and as the patient continues to walk, these sites can further break down to become an ulcer," DesPrés says. And for more useful information delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
According to DesPrés, "it's important to know that you have diabetes because it’s a disease that can affect many organs in your body, not just the feet." Diabetes raises your blood sugar, and if blood sugar is consistently high, it can impact other organs like your kidneys and your eyes. According to the Mayo Clinic, major complications from untreated diabetes include heart disease, kidney and eye damage, and hearing problems. In terms of your feet, if a diabetic ulcer goes untreated and becomes infected, "the bone beneath the ulcer can also become infected and an amputation may need to be performed to prevent the infection from spreading," DesPrés warns.
"I like to tell my patients that the best medicine is prevention, and once you have diabetes, the best thing you can do is try to prevent all of the complications that can accompany diabetes, meaning stay on top of your blood sugar levels, take your diabetes medicine as prescribed and continue to follow up with your doctors," DesPrés says. And for more symptoms of diabetes, If You Taste This Unexpectedly, You May Have Diabetes, Doctors Say.