Common Diabetic Foot Complications
In addition to peripheral neuropathy and poor circulation—which we covered in the section above—some of the long-term problems that can develop for people with diabetes include:
- Chronic foot wounds. Here’s a sad but true story: Dr. Tenenboym used to perform 3-4 amputations per week on people with untreated, infected foot wounds related to their diabetes. The five-year survival rate after an amputation is, by some estimates, less than half.
- Charcot foot deformity. Bones can become brittle and prone to cracking with diabetes, and if your neuropathy is severe you might not even notice this while it’s occurring. Continue to walk on them, and bones crumble further, leading to significant deformity in your foot shape. Often this leads to severe disability and, ultimately, amputation.
- Corns and calluses. Neuropathy may also prevent you from being able to tell when your shoes are too tight or your skin is becoming irritated. In addition to being unsightly, corns and calluses can develop into wounds if not properly addressed.
- Dry skin. Due to poor circulation, people with diabetes frequently struggle with skin that becomes dry, scaly, and even cracked or fissured. In addition to being unsightly and uncomfortable, these breaks in skin present opportunities for infection.
In addition, virtually all foot and ankle problems—not just corns and calluses and cracked skin, but also bunions, ingrown toenails, and more—are much more serious when diabetes is involved. They are more likely to ultimately result in wounds, infections, and other complications that could threaten your health—or life.
To prevent ingrown toenails, it is best to avoid trimming your toenails too short. Trim your toenails straight across instead of curving at the edges. Trying to cut out the ingrown edges can make the condition worse over time. If this is the first time you are experiencing an ingrown toenail, you may also try to soak your feet in lukewarm water with epsom salts. If you do not notice improvement in your symptoms within a couple of days, see your local podiatrist for further management before the condition becomes worse. In general, home treatment does little to fix the problem and can make the problem worse.
When To See Your Podiatrist
You should see your podiatrist if you continue to experience pain and redness or if your symptoms worsen. Your podiatrist will perform a minor procedure to remove the offending nail border and improve your pain. The procedure will likely be performed with local anesthesia to make you comfortable. They may also prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection if needed. Most people experience minimal pain after the procedure and can resume normal activity the next day.
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