Before we talk about why we need to see a podiatrist, let’s first have a review of what diabetes is.
Diabetes is a disease where the body produces less or no insulin which then increases the amount of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream. Diabetes is caused by a number of risk factors including genetics, diet, lifestyle, and many more. It is also closely associated with other diseases such as cardiovascular disease.
There has been an increase in diabetes patients over the course of the last few decades. As food becomes more readily available, working conditions become more sedentary, and other such factors, the number of diabetes patients is prevalent in any population. In Australia, approximately 5% of the population has been diagnosed with diabetes.
There are two kinds of diabetes: Type 1 or Type 2. However, another type of diabetes occurs in pregnant women called Gestational diabetes:
Type 1 Diabetes: When insulin production halts or is severely diminished
Type 1 diabetes occurs in people who have damaged beta cells in their pancreas. This means that the beta cells, which are responsible for insulin production, cannot make insulin.
For Type 1 patients, doctors usually recommend insulin replacement therapy in order to make up for the lack of insulin a patient’s body produces.
Type 2: When insulin is produced, but is still not enough
Type 2 diabetes is the more common of the two types. It is usually hereditary or is prevalent in families with a history of diabetes.
Doctors may prescribe insulin therapy, but it is not always needed. Most cases need only control their ailment with proper diet changes, exercise, and close monitoring.
Gestational Diabetes: When pregnancy creates an imbalance in hormones
Gestational diabetes occurs in pregnant women showing comparable symptoms to Type 2 diabetes. Women who suffer from gestational diabetes are often at an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.
Some women will require medication or insulin injections. However, Just like Type 2 diabetes, a modified diet, exercise, and monitoring can help manage blood sugar levels.
Now that we’ve had a proper look at what diabetes is, what can it do to the body?
Experts from Watsonia Podiatry share that an increase of blood sugar levels create complications in different parts of the body such as the feet. This increase in blood sugar slows the flow of blood and can damage the nerves in your body.
Our extremities, such as our feet, are the furthest body part away from both our hearts and our brains. This means that our hands and feet are likely the first to be affected negatively by diabetes usually because of two things:
1. Slowed blood flow
The body relies on a complex system of tubular blood vessels called the Circulatory System to transport oxygen and nutrients to all the different parts of the body. This system is composed of two types of vessels namely the arteries (red in color) and the veins (blue in color).
Arteries transport oxygenated red blood cells from your heart to drop off oxygen and nutrients to the rest of the body. Veins are then used to transport deoxygenated blood from the rest of the body back to the heart.
Arteries and veins expand and contract with every heartbeat. This expansion and contraction is a way of pumping blood throughout the body. An increase in blood sugar can cause Atherosclerosis. This occurs when glucose molecules attach to the walls of arteries which make it difficult to maintain a consistent expansion and contraction. When this happens, blood being sent through affected arteries decreases.
What this means is that not enough oxygenated blood is supplying oxygen and nutrients to your body. Since the extremities are the furthest away from your heart, complications usually occur in them first. Your hair starts to look unhealthy, nails slowly turn black, your hands and feet slowly lose feeling, and your injuries take a lot longer to heal.
2. Feeling numb
The Nervous System is another complex system, but this time is responsible for bodily functions including movement, sensation, blood pressure, and heart rate. In both voluntary and involuntary actions, signals from your brain travel down to the body part involved and tell it what to do. At the same time, the body part sends signals back up to the brain if there are any sensory inputs such as touching, smelling, seeing, hearing, tasting. Imagine electricity travelling on the circuit board of a computer.
The nerve fibres all over our body are surrounded by an insulation material called a myelin sheath. It helps protect the fibres as well as transfer signals from cell to cell.
Diabetes can affect all of these nerves. The increase in blood sugar degrades the myelin sheath which not only runs the risk of permanent nerve damage, but also reduces the capacity of signals to travel through the nerve fibres.
What this means is that when a person experiences nerve damage due to diabetes, their ability to feel, smell, see, hear, and taste is greatly diminished.
So why am I seeing a podiatrist if I have diabetes?
Diabetes patients are known to lose feeling in their extremities particularly their feet because of the slowed blood flow and nerve damage that takes place. Loss of feeling in the feet can lead patients’ feet to more risk of severe injury.
Because of the lack of sensation, diabetes patients can’t feel pain when they receive lesions such as blisters, corns, callus and warts. These lesions can lead to a breakdown in skin integrity, and can lead to ulceration when coupled with poor blood flow.
Diabetes is a serious health condition that can severely affect parts of the body such as the feet. Therefore, it is important to book appointments with the appropriate health professionals and get regularly checked.