Poor circulation problems are common for those with diabetes. Learn how checking your feet regularly and other prevention tips can help you prevent circulation problem complications.
For every person with diabetes, keeping blood sugar levels in check is a normal part of each day. Like anything that becomes routine, it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Diabetes management is crucial for regulating glucose metabolism, but it also plays a big part in maintaining other body systems.
The relationship between diabetes and circulation is especially important. While incidental high glucose levels might cause blurry vision, fatigue, and headaches, long-term hyperglycemia can have more serious effects. High glucose levels over many years might lead to plaque buildup in the blood vessels, which could make it more difficult for the circulatory system to move oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, especially to the feet and legs.
Poor circulation can cause pain and discomfort, and the lack of consistent blood supply can slow the healing process for cuts or sores. When left untreated, non-healing cuts can become infected. Over time, poorly managed circulation problems can cause kidney failure and blindness, and in extreme cases may lead to leg or foot amputation.
This might sound scary, but it's important to remember that there are plenty of effective ways to stay healthy.
Symptoms of Poor Circulation
The first step to treating and improving your circulation is to diagnose it. Some symptoms will be fairly clear—you might notice your feet and hands feel cold or even numb, skin may become dry and cracked, and cuts or sores may be slow to heal. Less obvious symptoms may include:
- Brittle toenails
- Hair loss on your feet or legs
- Chest pain when exercising
For some men, poor circulation may also cause erectile dysfunction. Since tobacco smoke damages blood vessels, people who smoke regularly may be at greater risk for problems with circulation.
If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, your doctor will want to determine the cause and extent of the issue as soon as possible. In addition to a physical exam and medical history, your doctor might suggest a blood test, ultrasound or CT exam, and a thorough foot exam.
Tips for Prevention
Practicing healthy habits as soon as you're diagnosed with diabetes is a good way to prevent the development of circulation problems. Eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and limit your intake of refined carbohydrates, and sugary foods. Remember to exercise regularly—thirty minutes a day, three to five days a week can help you maintain blood sugar levels and improve circulation. If you do smoke, it's important that you quit as soon as possible, and you can visit the Rite Aid Quit Smoking Solution Center for help.
Other healthy habits can also lend a hand in preventing issues with circulation.
- Routinely check your feet for ulcers or injuries, wash them regularly, and apply lotion (but not between the toes) to help prevent dryness
- Work to regulate your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels
- Get regular eye exams to look for changes in the blood vessels of your retinas
In many instances, the advice for treating diabetes-related circulation problems is the same as the advice for preventing them. Your doctor may also recommend one or more additional treatment options, including:
- Medications to treat pain symptoms
- Aspirin or other blood thinning medications
- Surgical procedures to open or bypass narrowed or blocked vessels
Managing both diabetes and circulation issues can feel like a lot of work, and it's important to remember that you're not alone. Consult with your doctor if you have questions or concerns about the best methods for treatment.
By Joelle Klein
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Mayo Clinic, Diabetes
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Cleveland Clinic, Diabetes: Foot & Skin Related Complications
Centers for Disease Control, Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease
American Diabetes Association, Aerobic Exercise
Livestrong, How Can Diabetes Cause Atherosclerosis
American Diabetes Association, Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)