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Living With Diabetes Means Caring For Your Feet

Bob Barrett

At one time, Lou Brock was the fastest man in Major League Baseball. He had over 900 stolen bases, including one season when he swiped 118. Last month, the 76 year old Hall of Famer had his left leg amputated just below the knee, the result of an infection made worse by diabetes.

According to the latest numbers from the CDC, over 29 million Americans are living with Diabetes, and over a quarter of them don’t know it. And when you have diabetes, you not only have to check your blood sugar and insulin levels. You also have to check your feet.

"The feet are what keep people independent" said Dr. Grace Torres-Hodges, a podiatrist practicing in Pensacola. She says about half of her patients are people living with diabetes. Those are people who need to pay extra attention to their feet. "Diabetes has such a devastating effect (on the feet), resulting in people with neuropathy, which is a loss of sensation in their feet." She says people with this loss of sensation cannot feel if they have an injury to their feet, and that can cause major problems, from infections all the way to amputations.

This is because having diabetes not only affects the feeling in a patient’s feet, it also means they have poor circulation and a weakened immune system. Dr. Torres-Hodges says if you have diabetes you should show your feet some love. "They just need to check their feet regularly. They should establish themselves with a podiatrist and see them at least twice a year. But, on a daily basis, we want them to reflect on their feet. Check their feet regularly, look for blisters, cuts or sores. Check the top, the bottom, in between the toes.  we want them to notice of their feet and really cold or really hot. Inspect their toe nails, toe nails can tell you a lot about someone's health. inspect their shoes, and actually put their hand in their shoe to make sure there's nothing in there (that could injure them)."

And patients should use these precautions whether they have type one or type two diabetes, whether they are controlled through diet or insulin. "Especially down here in Florida because we do a lot of barefoot walking on the beach...wearing different types of shoes (including) open toed shoes. Bumps, bruises, scratches and scrapes, those are entry points for infection."

Dr. Torres Hodges says that many times an injury can become very infected and can cause major problems up to and including amputation. She says about 70 percent of people with diabetes will experience that loss of feeling in their feet, and thousands have some or part of their feet amputated every year. She emphasizes the need for constant foot care and vigilance. "If you're in doubt of something, have it checked out. Don't wait until it gets too far gone. Podiatrists we want to keep you walking."

Every year, November designated Diabetes Awareness Month. The American Diabetes Association estimates that the total national cost of diabetes to the US economy is $245 billion. 

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.