What are the symptoms of diabetes in the feet?

Female patient foot with symptoms of diabetes on the foot

The National Diabetes Statistics Report indicates that 37.3 million people in the United States currently live with diabetes. That’s about one in every ten people living with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, and thousands of people suffering from foot pain on a daily basis.

Note: Over eight million adults living with the disease haven’t been diagnosed yet. The delay in diagnosis is often because symptoms of diabetes can be difficult to detect at first. Connecting with your primary care physician for regular health check ups can catch diabetes early. Early detection may prevent damage to vital organs and feet, and in the case of Type 2 diabetes, allow for possible remission.

Many people don’t realize that diabetes can affect any part of the body with a wide variety of symptoms. When diabetes isn’t controlled well, it often affects the feet in a multitude of ways: blistering, infection, poor circulation, swelling, pain and tingling due to nerve damage known as diabetic neuropathy. Whether you or someone close to you has been diagnosed with or is at risk of developing diabetes, it’s important to know the signs of diabetes that may appear on the skin or feet.

If you notice signs of diabetes in your feet, schedule an appointment with Arizona Foot Doctors and one of our Scottsdale podiatrists will advise on treatment and care.

Signs of diabetes on the skin

Diabetes impacts the skin and feet. These signs can be painful and can impact you every day.

Symptoms of diabetes that appear on the skin include:

  • Diabetic ulcers: Diabetes can impair the body’s ability to heal cuts and scrapes on the skin. When this happens, minor cuts or repeated friction can lead to diabetic ulcers, which can get infected. As many as 25% of people with diabetes get these ulcers on their feet.
  • Necrobiosis lipoidica: This sign of diabetes on the skin starts as areas of red, solid, and raised bumps. These bumps become patches of hard skin that can be red, yellow, or brown in color with a porcelain-like sheen. Necrobiosis lipoidica is often a painful and itchy condition.
  • Acanthosis nigricans: This usually painless skin condition causes areas of darkened skin that feel velvety. These areas can appear anywhere, but most often affect the folds of the skin, such as the neck, groin, and armpits, but they can also appear on the soles of the feet.
  • Digital sclerosis: This condition refers to hardening and thickening skin on a person’s fingers and toes. It can become so severe that it’s difficult to move the affected areas. For some people, the thickening skin also affects other parts of the skin, including the face, back, chest, and shoulders.
  • Skin infections: Skin infections, particularly fungal infections, are common signs of diabetes on the skin in people with uncontrolled diabetes. These infections can cause hot patches, pain, swelling, discoloration, foul smells, and discharge. Athlete’s foot is a common skin infection that can be a sign of diabetes on the skin.
  • Dry, itchy skin: High levels of blood glucose can cause dry, itchy skin all over the body. It’s important to remember that many other conditions can cause dry or itchy skin as well.

Other signs of diabetes on the feet

Diabetes can affect your feet in many ways. If you have diabetes that is not well-managed, your blood flow can be affected. Decreased circulation in the feet, legs, arms, and hands is called “peripheral vascular disease.”

People with peripheral vascular disease may struggle with wounds on the affected areas. Even small cuts can take a long time to heal. As such, anyone with this condition is more likely to get infections in their feet. Peripheral vascular disease can even cause gangrene, which is the death of the tissue. Without treatment, peripheral vascular disease can lead to amputation.

Nerve damage from diabetes

When diabetes isn’t under control, it can damage nerves anywhere in the body. This is called “diabetic neuropathy.” In mild cases, it might result in the loss of sensation in some areas of the body. As diabetes progresses without proper treatment, patients can lose all feeling in whole areas of their bodies.

Diabetic neuropathy commonly affects the feet. This loss of sensation can cause an array of problems with a person’s gait. The presence of both diabetic neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease can present a real danger. When a patient can’t feel a wound in their foot, they are less likely to give it the attention it needs. Then, it can’t heal as quickly as before, and that can lead to a decline in health.

Treatment for diabetes signs in the foot

If you live with diabetes and experience symptoms in your feet, you can take control of your health. First and foremost, it’s important to get tested for diabetes if you haven’t been diagnosed. The earlier you get a diagnosis, the better.

If you have diabetes, work with your care team to stabilize your blood sugar. This may mean changing your insulin dosage or making healthy lifestyle choices. Your primary care doctor or endocrinologist can help you come up with a care plan that works for you.

It’s just as important to take care of the signs of diabetes on the skin and feet as they arise. Depending on your symptoms, it may be helpful to have additional doctors and practitioners on your care team. You may get relief from a dermatologist or podiatrist, for example.

If you’re struggling with diabetes and experiencing symptoms in your feet, Arizona Foot Doctors can help. Our podiatrists assess nerve damage caused by diabetes, can treat infections, and provide support by creating treatment and prevention plans to manage this disease. Schedule an appointment today to start the healing process