As a podiatric physician and surgeon, I see many patients with diabetes and I manage the resulting complications in their feet. In my practice, I see too many members of the Indian diaspora who don’t make their personal health a priority, and that’s especially true among women. In our culture, women tend to focus on their families’ needs at the expense of their own. They often cook for their loved ones, care for their grandchildren, and support their adult children. When it comes to managing and treating diabetes this needs to change.
Diabetes is a serious condition. It brings with it a risk of slow-healing foot wounds, systemic infection, and amputation. People who undergo an amputation as a result of their diabetes have a higher risk of dying within five years than people who have cancer.
The message I share with my patients deprioritizing their health is, if you want to continue caring for your family, you must take care of your health first. The good news is, there are a few simple steps anyone can take to protect their feet from serious complications associated with diabetes and avoid the risk of amputation:
- Conduct a daily foot exam. Look for changes in color, temperature, hair, and nails. If you notice any changes or even minor injuries in your feet, contact your podiatrist immediately.
- Never go barefoot, even in your own home. Even small injuries can lead to serious infection and limb loss. If it’s your tradition to take your shoes off at the door, wear slippers while in the house.
- Don’t try to address problems with over-the-counter cures or bathroom surgery! Diabetes can damage the nerves in your feet, causing you to lose sensation. It’s easy to injure yourself when you can’t feel pain. If you notice a problem with your feet, visit a podiatrist.
- See your diabetes care team regularly, including your endocrinologist, ophthalmologist, and podiatrist. You should have a diabetic foot exam with a podiatrist at least once a year, and more often if you have experienced prior complications in your feet.
- Break the cycle of unhealthy eating. Small changes can have a big impact for your diabetes and your family’s health! Diabetes is avoidable when you establish healthy habits early on, and once you have diabetes, controlling your blood sugar through a healthy diet is key.
- Get active. Get regular physical activity. This can be as simple as a walk in your neighborhood or riding bikes with your grandchildren. Just get moving!
Diabetes is very prevalent in our community— Indian Americans are 70 percent more likely than white Americans to develop diabetes. It’s time to address the impact of this disease and help your children and grandchildren develop healthier habits by modeling them yourself. If you have diabetes, manage your blood sugar, see your health-care providers regularly, and take care of your feet! These steps can help prevent serious complications, keep you healthy and at the heart of your family.
Dr. Parthasarathy is a podiatric physician and surgeon in practice in Silver Spring, MD. She is chair of the Communications Committee for the American Podiatric Medical Association. For more information about diabetes and your feet, visit www.apma.org/diabetes.