Most people are aware that diabetes is linked with disabling and disfiguring foot complications, especially sores and wounds that can become infected and even force an amputation.
But you may not be aware of why and how diabetes is so dangerous for feet. Broadly speaking, it comes down to two primary complications of high blood sugar that put feet at risk—peripheral neuropathy, which you can read more about here, and poor circulation.
How Does Diabetes Affect Circulation?
Let’s start with some basics. Your circulatory system—heart, blood, and blood vessels—is the primary means by which your body delivers oxygen and nutrition to your cells. It’s also responsible for carrying waste products back from the cells, fighting infectious diseases, and more.
If you have diabetes, inflammation from high blood sugar can constrict the blood vessels, reducing the rate of circulation. At the same time, blood vessel walls can become hardened, and deposits of plaque (atherosclerosis) build up on the inside of the vessel—reducing flow even further.
Although this process can and does happen throughout the body, the small blood vessels that reach the hands and feet are the most vulnerable. Eventually, they can no longer provide enough blood flow to the extremities to keep up with cellular demand, resulting in a condition called peripheral artery disease.
In addition to diabetes, other risk factors of peripheral artery disease include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Family history
What Are the Consequences of Poor Circulation for People with Diabetes?
The biggest and most dangerous possible consequence of poor circulation is the growing risk of foot ulcers—which, if they become infected, may require extensive treatment in order to resolve without resorting to amputation.
With reduced circulation, cuts and scrapes will take longer to close and clot, and your immune system isn’t able to eradicate any germs that get in as effectively. Because of this, even something as small as a popped blister could become a serious wound if not treated promptly.
How serious is this problem? Studies show that untreated PAD is fatal within five years in about 1 in 3 cases. The stakes are enormous.
Other possible symptoms you may experience include:
- Cramping and pain in your feet, calves, thighs, or hips—especially when walking (intermittent claudication)
- Swelling in the feet and ankles
- Feeling cold, numb, or weak in one or both legs
- Skin discoloration or shininess
- Weak pulse in the legs
- Slow hair and toenail growth
- Cognitive dysfunction (memory loss, concentration issues, etc.)
- Digestive system issues
- General fatigue
It’s important to remember that poor circulation in the feet and legs usually means you are also experiencing poor circulation elsewhere. The symptoms of peripheral artery disease are an early warning that your risk of more serious complications—including heart attack and stroke—is also high.
How We Can Help
As with many conditions, poor circulation in feet is best caught and addressed as early as possible, since the damage is not always easily reversible.
However, there is a problem. In many situations, you may not notice any symptoms at all—or not notice them until circulation has been significantly restricted.
Fortunately, our office provides PADnet vascular testing. This is a simple, non-invasive, in-office test we can use to detect the early signs of peripheral artery disease—often long before you suspect anything is wrong. And that allows us to begin treatment now, before the condition progresses to more severe stages.
PADnet testing is covered by Medicare and almost all private insurance plans, and we strongly recommend getting tested if you meet any of the following risk factors:
- 65 or older
- Have diabetes, heart disease, or any other vascular disease
- Have a previous bypass or stent procedure
Treatment for peripheral artery disease is typically based around two things—helping you manage and reduce pain so you can remain physically active, and halting any further reduction in your circulation.
Healthy lifestyle changes—diet, exercise, losing weight, managing your diabetes, etc.—will be a fundamental part of any kind of treatment plan.
We may also prescribe, provide, or recommend additional treatment options, including medications, compression stockings, and more. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to unblock or bypass a particularly constricted artery causing pain.
If you are currently experiencing any of the symptoms of peripheral artery disease, or one or more of the risk factors apply and you haven’t been screened yet this year, give our office a call to set up an appointment.
The consequences of undiagnosed and untreated circulatory problems aren’t just severe—they’re potentially fatal. So don’t take the risk! You can reach our Oklahoma City office at (405) 418-2676 and don’t forget to ask about our in-office vascular testing!
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