Every person who has diabetes, should have an annual foot examination. Feet, along with kidneys and eyes, form the “terrible triad” as it is sometimes called in medical circles; because people with diabetes can develop peripheral arterial disease or peripheral neuropathy(feet); nephropathy(kidneys) and retinopathy(eyes). I have spent the past two days conducting the Annual Foot Examination for people who attend the Potchefstroom Centre for Diabetes (CDE).
How many people with diabetes undergo this annual examination? Who knows? What is certain is that CDE members have to comply with rules which gives them access to all the basic health care professionals they need. (CDE is a Managed Health Care network of over 250 medical practices contracted to certain medical aid schemes).
The benefit of this annual examination is that patients, families and health carers know if the feet are at risk of developing futher complications associated with diabetes. The examination involves checking vascular, neurological, dermatological and orthopaedic status. Footwear is also checked and commented on. The International Consensus for managing the diabetic foot states that early identification of vascular insufficiency and referral to the vascular specialist does save many limbs.
Worldwide of course there is evidence that smoking damages your health, but even in the group at Potchefstroom there were smokers. All of whom had diminished circulation, plus the typical signs of cool feet, absent hair, discoloured pink/blue feet – especially when hanging over the side of the examination couch – and a cough.
Checking the state of sensation is vital for good diabetic foot health. The loss of sensation – neuropathy – is often an insidious process, not being fully appreciated by the patient until they are aware of “funny feelings” in their feet. Patients describe sensations of “pins and needles,” “shooting pains,” “ants running over my feet,” “I thought my sock was folded over under my foot, but it wasn’t,” “it feels like I’m walking on cotton wool” and many others. This could be the first step to damaging the foot and developing an ulcer.
People with diabetes get all the conditions that affect the rest of us. However, if not identified and managed properly an area of callus(which indicates increased local pressure) can easily develop into an ulcer. Various nail conditions are common amongst people with diabetes, especially fungal infections and they are difficult to get rid of.
They structure of any foot affects its function and so in the diabetic foot assessment we look at the alterations in shape that could cause load increases and potential blister or ulcer sites. In addition disorders such as gout are very often associated with diabetes.
Footwear is responsible for at least 50% of foot ulcers, so this is examined very carefully. Unfortunately, many people do not have suitable footwear, so it’s important to check it and give good advice.
Diabetes is a life-threatenting disease, but modern medicine has moved to early diagnosis and treatment and an important part of this is recognition by podiatrists of the signs in the feet. However for the person with diabetes one of the simplest acts to ensuring long life is to have your feet examined annually and know your foot status or risk.