Diabetes is called the silent killer because it is quite often that people miss its symptoms until it is too late. Of these symptoms, the ones associated with skin are even more likely to be missed. Diabetes is characterized by an increase in blood sugar (glucose) levels beyond the norm. There is a large number of skin conditions that are associated with diabetes. Sometimes it is knowledge of these skin conditions that lead to a diagnosis of diabetes. Hence keeping a watch for these conditions is recommended to high-risk groups. The good news is that with an early diagnosis most of these skin conditions can be treated and managed.
So what causes these skin problems associated with diabetes?
Some of the things that happen in human physiology during diabetes like the ones listed below are responsible for the skin conditions:
- Insulin resistance
- High sugar levels decrease the immune function thereby causing infections
- A decrease in blood flow Nerve damage
What Skin Conditions should I look out for?
Diabetes increases the vulnerability of skin to infections. Some of these conditions are listed below:
- Bacterial infections
- Folliculitis (boils), styes, nail infections.
- Fungal infections,
- Jock itch, nail infection, yeast infection, athletes foot.
- Dry, itchy skin
Repeated skin infections can be a sign of diabetes and a warrant for a blood test. I have even found patients in whom diabetes is detected for the first time after a repeated bout of skin infections leads to a blood test and hence a diabetes diagnosis. Also due to poor blood circulation, itching can occur in various parts of the body; especially on lower legs. Diabetes also decreases the sensation on the skin and hence chances of skin getting cuts and bruises increases. These bruises if ignored can result in a more serious infection. Sometimes diabetes patients develop thick dark raised patches on the neck, underarms, groins etc. This condition is called acanthosis nigricans. Diabetes patients are also more susceptible to developing skin tags and in some cases white patches indicative of vitiligo.
There is a host of other conditions that diabetic patients are more susceptible to like:
- Thinning of the skin accompanied by red and itchy ulcers.
- Small raised brown spots appearing on shins.
- Skin in extremities (fingers, toes and hands) becoming thick, waxy and tight.
- The appearance of raised yellowish lesions on hands feet and legs.
- The appearance of blisters on extremities.
Most of these conditions are curable and if not curable then manageable with proper medical care.
I am a diabetic patient – What do I do to take good care of my skin?
The most important ‘no brainer’ things to do are – keep your sugar under control and get a regular blood test.
- Keep the skin clean and moisturized at all times.
- Avoid very hot baths and showers.
- Bathe twice in hot humid weather to decrease sweating thereby reducing chances of infections.
- Avoid soaps and shampoos that cause dryness of the skin.
- Moisturizing soaps are helpful.
- Keep your skin hydrated by using a moisturizer to prevent any cuts and chapping.
- Always tend to freshly obtained cuts immediately.
- Wash minor cuts with soap and water. See a dermatologist right away if you get a major cut, burn, or infection.
- Do not self-medicate with over the counter medicines.
- Take good care of your feet and hands. Diabetics are more likely to get skin and other ailments related to extremities.
- Check them every day for sores and cuts. Wear broad, flat shoes that fit well.
On a parting note –Try to reduce your stress levels and aim for an overall healthier lifestyle. Believe me, this remains one of the most under-rated advice amongst all the patients that I see.