Diabetes and cold feet

Do you sometimes feel as though your feet are in the Arctic while the rest of you is in the Bahamas? The cold feet phenomenon is one of those strange side effects of diabetes that can definitely affect your quality of life. Understanding what causes it and how to treat it can go a long way toward making you more comfortable.

What causes cold feet?

For some, the thought of walking down the aisle causes cold feet; for those with diabetes, the issue isn't as quaint. "In most cases of patients with diabetes that complain of 'cold feet', it can be attributed to one of two causes, vascular insufficiency or diabetic neuropathy," said Gary F. Stones, DPM, President of the New York State Podiatric Medical Association. "I have found in my experience that it is often the latter, but may have a component of small vessel disease often seen in diabetics."

Diabetic peripheral neuropathy, sometimes known as DPN, is one of the most common underlying problems that leads to cold feet. It can also lead to tingling, burning, sharp pains or cramps, sensitivity to touch or numbness of the feet. You feet might seem warm to the touch, but they feel cold to you. The symptoms might be much worse at night.

Diabetes and cold feet: prevention and treatment tips

Though it can be tempting to simply dunk your feet in warm or hot water, that's the last thing you should do. "Never soak your feet in hot water," Dr. Stones cautioned. "This can lead to thermal injury and in some cases have disastrous consequences, especially in someone with DPN and underlying vascular insufficiency." You should also avoid heating pads or hot water bottles, as these can cause burns.

These home remedies might help you overcome the annoying feeling of ice-cold feet:

  1. Wear warm socks and shoes most of the time. Always wear warm socks to bed.
  2. Invest in an electric blanket and turn it on an hour before you crawl under the covers.
  3. Regular exercise, including walking, can help increase circulation to the feet and alleviate symptoms.
  4. Applying topical creams that contain capsaicin can warm the skin and make your feet more comfortable.
  5. When sitting, wiggle your toes and move your ankles. This can help increase blood flow.
  6. Add B-complex vitamins or niacin to your daily medications, as these might improve blood flow -- but don't forget to speak to your doctor about them first.

What if none of these tips work for you? "If over the counter and home remedies prove ineffective, the patient may want to consider asking their healthcare provider to prescribe prescription medication such as oral antidepressants, or anti-epileptic agents such as Neurontin or Lyrica, to help with the DPN symptoms," Dr. Stones said.

But keep in mind that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Check your blood sugar on a regular basis, take medications as prescribed and speak with your doctor about ways you can keep your glucose levels on an even keel. The best way to combat cold feet or any other complication of diabetes is to keep your blood glucose levels under tight control.

About Shannon Lee

Shannon Lee began writing about diabetes long before she was diagnosed in 1998. A professional writer with over two decades of experience, Shannon has covered topics from medical and health to relationships and is the author of several published novels.

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