The occurrence of diabetes can result in very high blood sugar levels, also known as hyperglycemia, which not only hinders the body's ability to fight infection but can also result in damaged nerves, kidneys and blood vessels. One of the most common complications associated with diabetes is excruciating foot pain. This diabetes symptom can be attributed to nerve damage that occurs due to the disease and the resulting poor circulation of blood.
Although this may start out as a mild tingling sensation in the hands and feet, it can gradually grow to become quite painful as the disease progresses. In fact it is observed that among the 16 million people affected by diabetes, 25% may develop diabetic foot pain symptoms. Here are some of the common causes and symptoms of diabetic foot problems, along with measures to control this disorder.
Diabetic Foot Pain Causes
Peripheral neuropathy is a type of diabetic neuropathy that affects the nerves. There are three types of peripheral neuropathy which include sensory, motor, and autonomic neuropathy. A large percentage of pain that diabetic patients complain of is due to sensory neuropathy. This can show up as "sensitive pain," where just touching the skin or covering your feet with a sheet in bed could be painful or result in numbness in the feet.
Similarly, motor neuropathy can result in nerves in the muscles being affected by the disease making the muscles feel weak and achy. Autonomic neuropathy results in dry, stiff, cracked skin and painful calluses. Bacterial and fungal infection could be more likely an additional source of pain and concern.
Circulation problems in the feet may cause intense pain. This is due to the effect of high blood sugar in the arteries, capillaries and veins. When the arteries are blocked by the same fatty deposits in diabetes, thus thickening the artery walls, calcium deposits are formed. This results in partial or totally blocking of the blood flow to the feet. Hence, due to the tissues starving for oxygen, there is extreme pain in the foot.
Diabetics are more susceptible to fungal and bacterial infections of the foot due to the change in nutrition and other medical changes brought about by the onset of the disease. As rising blood sugar levels pose a threat to a person's immune system, so does this condition increase the risk of contracting infection.
Muscle and Joint Pain
Another common source of foot pain in diabetics involves the muscles and the joints. Due to the muscles being affected, the tendons become stiff and begin to contract. This process can not only result in pain in the muscle and joint pain, but also create problems in balancing oneself while walking.
Signs and Symptoms
Foot pain caused by type 1 diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus, can manifest itself in many ways. These include:
- A burning or having a constant sensation of heat felt in one's feet. This includes a stabbing, tingling or burning pain in the feet.
- Swelling and redness of the feet or legs due to infection.
- Achy and weak muscles in the thighs, feet and shin.
- Motor neuropathy may trigger walking imbalances or a limp. This causes the foot to repeatedly rub against the inside of the shoes resulting in the formation of calluses, inflamed skin and diabetic foot ulcers.
- A diabetic's sweating mechanism is altered when autonomic neuropathy occurs. As a result, dry, thickened toenails and cuticles are commonly observed.
- Fungal and bacterial infection causing fever and chills.
- Numbness in the feet can be a sign of nerve damage from diabetes.
Treating Foot Pain
Though there is no permanent cure for diabetes, as of now, this condition can be controlled with the help of medication. There are several over-the counter drugs available that can help soothe the pain. NSAIDs and painkillers are prescribed to reduce the pain and inflammation. The doctor may also advice the patient to take rest and reduce foot movement during painful spells.
Although foot pain and diabetes do go hand in hand, these painful symptoms can be combated by careful monitoring of blood sugar levels and consistent examination of the feet. This can prevent problems from starting, and help correct problems that have begun. For people who complain of diabetic foot pain it is important to have it evaluated by your physician and introduce the appropriate diabetic foot care. Although oral medication is known to be helpful, the best course of action is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and eat a well-balanced diabetic diet to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.