The holiday season is a time of joy and happiness…and stress!
There are many busy times of the year, but all the others pale in comparison to the one we are about to enter. After all, there are gifts to wrap, dishes to bake, parties to attend, etc. On top of that, we have to deal with winter weather (which can be—as the classic song reminds us—frightful).
Now, that’s already a ton to heap on the plate of pretty much everyone. Of course, all of the holiday distractions can be even more problematic if you have diabetes.
Why is that?
Put simply, it’s because you need to keep a focus on health-related considerations so you can lower your risk for any of the medical complications and emergencies diabetes can cause.
Along with serious problems like kidney failure, blindness, heart attacks, and strokes, diabetes can affect your feet—and this is more concerning than you might imagine!
Diabetes is a condition that develops as a result of excessive blood sugar levels in the bloodstream. This can happen either when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin—a hormone that allows the body to properly absorb and use sugar (glucose)—or the body is unable to use insulin effectively. For some individuals, both of these problems exist at the same time.
The excess glucose in the blood can cause problems for most of the body’s organs and nerves, thereby rendering essential systems ineffective (or at least reducing their normal capabilities).
From a podiatric perspective, three affected body systems worth noting are your immune, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. Whereas they all contribute to problems in other areas of your body, let’s look at how they are impacted by diabetes and what it means for the health of your feet:
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a condition that can accompany diabetes. PAD results in diminished blood flow down to the lower extremities. This is a problem because the tissues in your feet rely on strong circulation to receive the oxygen and nutrients they need to thrive.
In particular, this reduced blood flow can deprive bones of nourishment they need for optimal health. When this happens, they become weakened.
That’s a problem because feet endure tremendous amounts of force even when we just walk around during the course of an average day. As such, the bones within them—and they are numerous—need to be strong and able to handle the physical stress.
This is probably less than surprising, but weak bones break more easily. The problem is compounded when severe peripheral neuropathy has taken away the ability of nerves to transmit physical sensations, which means you aren’t able to feel it when bones do break.
Since you aren’t aware of the problem, you will most likely continue performing normal tasks. In doing so, more fracturing can occur.
That cycle will continue until the foot is severely misshapen—a condition we call Charcot foot.
There may be things we can do for Charcot foot, but keep in mind this is a potential cause for lower limb amputation.
But it’s not the only one.
More concerning than Charcot foot—which is a very serious issue—is ulceration.
In the case of diabetic foot ulcers, damage to the nervous and immune systems combine to create a truly dangerous situation.
As noted, diabetic neuropathy can take away your ability to feel physical sensations. This means you can’t feel things like a toenail that has become ingrown or a blister on the back of your heel from an ill-fitting pair of shoes.
Whereas ingrown nails and blisters aren’t major problems for otherwise healthy individuals, these conditions definitely are for someone with diabetes.
The reason any kind of wound—either of internal or external origin—is so concerning with diabetes is because of the compromised immune system.
Since the immune system doesn’t work as it should, wounds don’t heal in a timely manner. That means potential entryways into the body for microorganisms stay open for an extended period of time. More than this, however, the normal immune functions that fight against diseases and infection aren’t happening as they should.
What all of this means is that you have wounds that don’t heal and continue to get worse in time—and this can lead to a gangrenous situation.
Gangrene is really bad news for a simple reason:
The only “cure” for gangrene is amputation (to keep it from spreading).
Losing a limb is already bad enough as is, but even worse is the fact that the 5-year mortality rates following diabetes-related amputation is worse than ones for several leading forms of cancer, including breast, colon, and prostate.
At Sunshein Podiatry Associates, we want you to stay safe, healthy, and alive! Because of this, we place a strong emphasis on diabetic foot care—and you should too.
Now, going back to our opening, we are heading into the most frantic, stressful time of the year. But this doesn’t mean you can afford to lose sight of your diabetic foot care.
With that in mind, here are some tips for getting through the holiday season with your feet as safe and healthy as possible:
- Manage your blood sugar levels. Sure, this is something you need to do throughout the year, but you need to keep a sharp eye on it during a season that is so often associated with sweet treats of all kinds.
- Avoid—or at the very least, limit—sugar in your diet. To connect with our previous tip, you should pass on most cookies and candies at holiday parties, and especially if you don’t know how much sugar they contain. Instead, offer to bring your own desserts or treats. By doing so, you can use diabetes-smart recipes (the American Heart Association is one of many great resources out there for this) and know exactly what they contain.
- Avoid soft drinks. Hopefully this isn’t something we need to remind you, but don’t forget that many beverages (like soft drinks and certain juices) contain astounding amounts of sugar. Many holiday parties will have punches and other sugar-heavy beverages, so be vigilant in making sure that you stick with water and unsweetened options!
- Wear your diabetic footwear. When you hit the stores and malls to buy presents for loved ones this year, make sure you protect your feet by wearing comfortable diabetic socks and shoes. If you’ve been prescribed a pair of custom orthotics, use them so you are offloading pressure from appropriate areas of your feet. Remember, we take the time to ensure these medical devices work in conjunction with your unique feet—and this means they make it more comfortable to walk around.
- Maintain your exercise program. We know the season is busy, but your health absolutely must be a priority. So as you plan out your week and determine when you’re going shopping (etc.), make sure you have time for (low-impact!) exercises blocked out first.
Now, these are all things you should be doing throughout the year, but we know it’s easy to get distracted with everything the holiday season brings. Remember, you need to keep a focus on your diabetic foot care to keep your lower limbs safe—and possibly even save your life!
Even though this is a very serious health consideration, we have some good news:
You’re not on your own!
At least, you aren’t when you partner with Sunshein Podiatry Associates for optimal foot health.
If you need help creating an effective diabetic foot care plan or have recognized that a problem has started to develop, please don’t hesitate to contact us!
We are here for you, so call (937) 435-7477 or connect with us online today.