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Foot care for people with diabetes

doi: 10.1097/01.NURSE.0000368815.89851.9b

Provide this handout when you explain foot care to a patient with diabetes.

This patient-education guide has been adapted for the 5th-grade level using the Flesch-Kincaid and SMOG formulas. It may be photocopied for clinical use or adapted to meet your facility's requirements. Selected references are available upon request.

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Why should I pay special attention to my feet if I have diabetes?

Diabetes can damage nerves in your feet so you may not feel pain, heat, or cold. If you get a sore, blister, or cut on your foot, you might not notice it until it becomes infected. Other common foot problems (such as corns, calluses, ingrown toenails, bunions, and even dry skin) can lead to very serious infections in people with diabetes. If not treated, an infection can get so bad that toes or a foot may have to be amputated.

Diabetes also slows down the blood flow to your feet, preventing a sore or infection from healing properly. Smoking makes blood flow problems even worse.

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What can I do to take care of my feet?

Each day, take the following steps to care for your feet:

  • Look at your feet to check for cuts, blisters, redness, swelling, or other problems. If you can't bend over or pull your feet up so you can see the bottoms, use a mirror or ask someone to help you.
  • Wash your feet in lukewarm water every day. Make sure you dry your feet well, especially between the toes.
  • If your feet feel dry, put a thin coat of moisturizing lotion on the tops and bottoms of your feet.
  • Trim your toenails straight across when needed, and file the edges with an emery board. Don't cut them too short, or you may cut yourself or get an ingrown toenail. Don't trim corns or calluses yourself; let your healthcare provider do this if necessary.
  • Don't wear socks with tight elastic bands at the top because they can slow down blood flow to your feet.
  • Never walk barefoot, even in your home. Always wear slippers or shoes with socks. Make sure your shoes are comfortable, fit well, and protect your feet. Always check your shoes before you put them on and remove pebbles or any other objects that can hurt your feet.
  • Don't use heating pads, hot water bottles, or electric blankets on your feet because you may burn them without knowing it.
  • Wiggle your toes and move your feet up and down for 5 minutes, two or three times a day to improve blood flow to your feet and legs. Don't cross your legs for long periods of time because this reduces blood flow to your feet.
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What else can I do to prevent problems?

Call your healthcare provider right away if you find a cut or any break in your skin, a blister, an ingrown toenail, or any other changes in your feet if it doesn't go away in 24 hours. When you go in for regular diabetes checkups, ask your healthcare provider to look at your feet and tell you about any areas you need to watch. You may need to see a foot doctor, called a podiatrist, for routine foot care or foot problems.

Ask your healthcare provider if you need special shoes to protect your feet. The cost is usually covered by Medicare and other health insurance programs. Follow a healthy diet to keep your weight and blood sugar level in check, which will help prevent nerve damage and help healing.

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.