Diabetic foot

Foot problems are common in people with diabetes. You might be afraid you’ll lose a toe, foot, or leg to diabetes, or know someone who has, but you can lower your chances of having diabetes-related foot problems by taking care of your feet every day. Managing your blood glucose levels, also called blood sugar, can also help keep your feet healthy.

How can diabetes affect my feet?

Over time, diabetes may cause nerve damage, also called diabetic neuropathy, that can cause tingling and pain, and can make you lose feeling in your feet. When you lose feeling in your feet, you may not feel a pebble inside your sock or a blister on your foot, which can lead to cuts and sores. Cuts and sores can become infected.

Diabetes also can lower the amount of blood flow in your feet. Not having enough blood flowing to your legs and feet can make it hard for a sore or an infection to heal. Sometimes, a bad infection never heals. The infection might lead to gangrene.

Gangrene and foot ulcers that do not get better with treatment can lead to an amputation of your toe, foot, or part of your leg. A surgeon may perform an amputation to prevent a bad infection from spreading to the rest of your body, and to save your life. Good foot care is very important to prevent serious infections and gangrene.

Although rare, nerve damage from diabetes can lead to changes in the shape of your feet, such as Charcot’s foot. Charcot’s foot may start with redness, warmth, and swelling. Later, bones in your feet and toes can shift or break, which can cause your feet to have an odd shape, such as a “rocker bottom.”

A serious foot problem is when damage to your foot means it needs emergency attention. Having diabetes means that you’re more at risk of serious foot problems, and these can lead to amputation. This is more likely to happen if you’ve been told your level of risk for getting foot problems is high. This means that a minor problem with your feet could quickly become something very serious.

If you’re high risk, and see a change or problem with your feet, you need to know what to do to stop it getting worse.
Someone with diabetes is 20 times more likely to experience an amputation than someone without.

14 signs of a serious foot problem
  • It’s good to take time out to sit down and have a proper look at your feet every day. If you notice any changes or that you feel unwell you should do something about it straight away.
  • If you spot any of the following changes, you need to see your GP:
  • tingling sensation or pins and needles (like numbness)
  • pain (burning)
  • a dull ache
  • shiny, smooth skin on your feet
  • hair loss on your legs and feet
  • loss of feeling in your feet or legs
  • swollen feet
  • your feet don’t sweat
  • wounds or sores that don’t heal
  • cramp in your calves when resting or walking. And if you notice any of these changes,  see your local foot team urgently:
  • changes in the colour and shape of your feet
  • cold or hot feet
  • blisters and cuts that you can see but don’t feel
  • foul smell coming from an open wound.
What to do if you notice a problem

If you see something wrong, it’s really important to:

  • take the weight of your foot
  • contact your GP or foot protection team immediately
  • go to your nearest out-of-hours healthcare service if your GP or foot protection team aren’t available.

It’s really important to try and sort it out before it gets any worse – no matter how small the change. A serious foot problem for some people can lead to amputation very quickly.

You may be looked after by many different healthcare professionals, who will tell you what to do next. The important thing to remember is to keep your weight off your foot.