A person holds someone's foot and examines it.
Diabetes-related foot care involves the prevention and treatment of dangerous ulcers. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Having diabetes means keeping track of what you eat, how much you exercise, your blood sugar levels and even the condition of your feet.

When it comes to diabetes-related foot health, the goal is to prevent and treat foot ulcers that can lead to gangrene and amputation, one surgeon explained.

“Around 80 percent of diabetes-related lower extremity amputations start out as a foot ulcer,” vascular surgeon Dr. Anil Hingorani said in a Society for Vascular Surgery news release.

High blood sugar damages your blood vessels, causing poor circulation in your legs and feet. When feet don’t get enough oxygen-rich blood, any sores or cuts that develop may not heal as they should and more serious complications can result.

People with diabetes should see a health care provider who is trained in foot care at least once a year, but more often if they’re at greater risk for foot problems, according to the society.

However, there also are steps to take on your own. The group suggests:

  • Learn how to look after your feet, including how to check for sores or cuts, and the best ways to keep feet clean and dry.
  • Wear appropriate shoes. The best ones have broad and square toes, three or four lacing eyes on each side and a padded tongue. They’re also made of lightweight material and have enough space inside for a cushioned sole or orthotic inlay.
  • Wear special shoes if you’re at high risk. During foot checkups, ask your doctor if you need such shoes.

If you still develop a foot ulcer, don’t walk on it, the surgeons’ group advises. Your doctor may prescribe a total contact cast or a fixed-ankle walking boot.

Foot ulcers that don’t heal might indicate that your legs and feet are not getting enough blood. That should prompt a visit to a vascular surgeon, according to Hingorani.