How Poorly Managed Diabetes Affects Your Feet

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You know diabetes targets your blood sugar, but did you know your feet may be in the fire, too? If you don’t keep your condition under control, it can lead to serious foot problems. Here’s what you need to know.

When you have diabetes, you need an experienced podiatrist on your care team. Diabetes that’s poorly managed can lead to damage in the blood vessels of your feet, causing serious problems.

Dr. Matthew Cerniglia at the Ankle and Foot Institute of Texas in Saginaw is double-board certified and well-qualified to treat all of the complications your feet may suffer due to diabetes. Here’s what you need to know.

How diabetes works

To understand how diabetes affects your body, it helps to take a quick high school biology refresher course. 

When you eat food, it breaks down in your digestive tract, and the sugar (glucose) enters your bloodstream. This triggers your pancreas to release the hormone insulin, which unlocks your cells and allows the sugar to enter them so they can use the glucose as an energy source.

But if you have diabetes, your body either doesn't produce enough insulin or doesn’t use it well. The result is that sugar stays in your blood and doesn’t transfer to the cells that need it. High blood sugar is destructive — it can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, and vision loss.

It can also cause nerve and blood vessel damage, especially in your feet. 

How diabetes affects your feet

Because diabetes can damage your blood vessels, your circulatory system doesn’t function well. This is bad news for your whole body, but particularly for your feet because they’re so far away from your heart.

Without proper circulation, the nerves in your feet don’t get enough oxygenated blood, and they begin to falter. This common condition is called peripheral neuropathy — and about half of all diabetics suffer from it. 

If you manage your blood sugar well with proper nutrition, and insulin therapy if needed, you can avoid some of the common foot problems that tend to go hand-in-hand with diabetes. But if you don’t control your blood sugar, you may experience any of the following complications.

Skin changes 

Damaged nerves affect your feet’s ability to produce oil, so your feet may become exceedingly dry and cracked. You can keep them soft by applying a thin coat of unscented moisturizer or petroleum jelly immediately after showering, but never between your toes. 

Diabetic neuropathy

Neuropathy can cause tingling and pain, or it can cause the cessation of all feeling. If you can’t feel your feet, you can’t feel pain when you get a cut or scrape. You also won’t know if you’re developing a blister, have a pebble in your shoe, or step on a sharp object. 

This is dangerous because many diabetics walk around with an open wound and don’t realize it until it becomes seriously infected. Check your feet daily for signs of abrasions or other problems, and see Dr. Cerniglia if you suspect an infection.

Shape-shifting feet

Over time, diabetes can change the shape of your feet and toes. Your feet may swell and no longer fit into your shoes. Dr. Cerniglia may recommend diabetic shoes to keep your feet safe and comfortable.

Calluses and corns

In addition to inflammation, diabetic feet are more susceptible to calluses and corns due to pressure under the feet and the lack of circulation. You can control thickening skin by using a pumice stone while your feet are wet, but see Dr. Cerniglia to address your calluses and corns. He may need to trim away the thick skin — something you should never attempt at home.

Slow-healing foot ulcers

It’s common to get foot ulcers when you have diabetes. They typically develop on the ball of the foot and become slow-healing open wounds that need medical care. Often, these wounds become infected and require expert debridement, a thorough deep cleaning that sterilizes your wound and removes damaged tissue. 


In severe cases, foot ulcers can lead to the need for an amputation. Every day, about 230 Americans lose a limb due to complications of diabetes. 

Preventing diabetic foot problems

The best way to prevent diabetic foot problems is to keep your blood sugar under control. Then, team up with Dr. Cerniglia for expert medical care and wound management. 

At home, you can do your part by keeping your feet clean and dry, wearing roomy shoes, trimming your nails properly, and getting enough exercise to keep your blood flowing.

If you have diabetes and notice a blister, callus, or infection, schedule an appointment with Dr. Cerniglia by calling our office or booking online today.