Peripheral artery disease is a complication of diabetes that can have serious effects on your feet. People with this condition have narrowed arteries, and these narrowed arteries don't allow adequate blood flow to reach the extremities. This puts your feet at risk, causing slower healing and an increased risk of ulcers and infections. Here's what you need to know about this serious problem.

How does diabetes cause this complication?

Your blood vessels transport glucose throughout your body. If there is too much glucose in your blood, the cells that line your blood vessels can become damaged. Researchers still aren't sure why excess glucose is so damaging to blood vessels. One theory is that the fats and proteins in your blood bind with the glucose, forming molecules called advanced glycation end products that irritate the cells of the blood vessels.

What are the signs of peripheral artery disease?

Peripheral artery disease doesn't always cause symptoms, so it's possible to have it without knowing it. More than half of people with this condition have no symptoms, while one third have aching pain or cramps in their caves and thighs. This discomfort gets worse when you exercise, and gets better when you rest. More serious symptoms are also possible. Some people with this condition have pain in their legs even when they're resting, and are at risk of tissue loss and gangrene. 

Peripheral artery disease also makes injuries to your feet heal more slowly due to the reduced blood flow. You may notice that blisters or small cuts on your feet take longer to heal than they did before you had diabetes.

How can you protect your feet?

It's important that you wear shoes that fit your feet properly. Too-tight or badly fitting shoes can put pressure on parts of your feet, or lead to blisters that will be slow to heal. Avoid walking around in bare feet, even inside your own home, to avoid getting cuts or abrasions on your feet. You should also see a podiatrist regularly. Your podiatrist can help you choose shoes that properly protect your feet, and treat any issues that arise due to your reduced blood flow. 

Is it a common complication?

It's hard to know how many people with diabetes suffer from peripheral artery disease, since so many of them don't have any outward symptoms. Between 12% and 14% of the general population has this condition, though the real number is likely much higher because so many people don't show symptoms.

Peripheral artery disease is a common complication of diabetes, but it can be very serious. If you have diabetes, you need to pay special attention to your feet, and see your  podiatrist, Michael Scanlon DPM, regularly.