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Diabetes and Smoking: Dangerous Combination

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Diabetes and Smoking Dangerous Combination

Diabetes and Smoking Dangerous Combination

Patients with diabetes have a particular responsibility to their feet. It may be surprising to those newly diagnosed, but high blood sugar affects the feet as dramatically as it affects any part of the body.

Insulin resistance changes the chemistry in every cell in your body, but those changes often manifest themselves dramatically in the feet.

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor has probably given you advice on how to manage the disease, including the following tips:

  • Follow a healthy diet
  • Lose weight if necessary
  • Take insulin if necessary
  • Exercise
  • Learn how to manage blood sugar levels
  • Quit smoking

But many patients are not aware of the full consequences of diabetes for their feet. As foot and ankle surgeons, we see many patients with diabetes at our clinics in Sunnyvale, DeSoto and Dallas. We explain that poor blood flow in the legs and feet may lead to infections and ulcers (open sores). Damaged nerves (called peripheral neuropathy) in the legs and feet can create numbness. This prevents the patient from feeling irritation or pain in his or her feet. Even a hot water bottle, used to warm cold feet, can cause a burn. For instance, one diabetic woman walked for a week on a sore she could not feel, not realizing it was becoming infected. By the time the injury was diagnosed, surgery was required.

 If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, it’s important to maintain a relationship with a good foot doctor. Even with careful management, it’s usually only a matter of time before you need treatment or advice for diabetes-related foot problems.

Smoking is a risk factor

Diabetes and Smoking Dangerous CombinationHow is smoking related to diabetes? It’s a good question. On the face of it, we know that smoking damages the lungs. Nicotine is a drug. The tar that’s created when it’s burned is carcinogenic (meaning it causes cancer).

Smoking also affects blood vessels, causing them to harden and constrict. This squeezes the arteries and veins and increases the pressure within them. Reduced blood flow to the feet causes wounds to heal more slowly. Because blood supply is necessary to bring nutrients and oxygen to various parts of the body, poor circulation contributes to tissue damage.

Scientists once believed that smokers were generally less healthy than non-smokers, which is why many smokers develop diabetes. New research show that smoking causes diabetes. Smoking raises blood sugar and weakens the body’s ability to respond to insulin. Also, patients who smoke have more trouble controlling their condition. So it’s a double whammy— higher blood sugar and high blood pressure. The combination is especially hard on the feet.

When youre ready to quit

The American Diabetes Association has a website where the relationship between diabetes and feet and smoking is clearly explained. The ABA advises people who are thinking about quitting to take the following steps:

  • Decide how you plan to quit (for instance, cold turkey or gradually, nicotine patch, hypnosis, etc.)
  • Adapt your lifestyle to non-smoking (like breaking the habit of after-dinner coffee)
  • Avoid quitting when you have a major challenge looming at work or at home
  • Enlist friends & family for support or to quit with you
  • Clean house (get rid of cigarettes, ashtrays, lighters, etc.)
  • Learn how to manage blood sugar levels
  • Take up a new hobby or interest that is not conducive to smoking (like knitting or working out at a gym or volunteering at church)

Diabetes is a lifelong disease, difficult to manage in the best of situations. It affects everything— eating habits, weight control, physical routines— and it especially affects the feet.

The good news is that diabetics can have a great deal of impact on their condition. It’s not like cancer or heart disease, which may be out of the patient’s control. In fact, a diagnosis of diabetes can be the beginning of a new, healthier lifestyle— for you and your feet.

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