What could be nicer than a hot water bottle or a heating blanket, especially in winter, to keep your toes warm or just relax that stiff back after a hectic day at work? But it turns out that something so commonly used by people around the world can pose a major health risk to people with diabetes mellitus.
Diabetes is a disease with complications and usually people don’t get any related symptoms at the beginning of the disease. And if long-term diabetes (type 1 or type 2 diabetes) begins to affect your nerves, the skin’s sense of hot or cold temperatures decreases. In such situations, using hot water bottles or heated blankets can cause significant burns, which can be quite problematic.
This is also why patients with diabetes are recommended to keep their toes covered when going for walks or even indoors, especially if they are known to have problems with neuropathy.
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One of the most common complications in diabetics is tenderness and not a pain sensation, a condition in which even the smallest wound, resultor allergy can convert to gangrene, which can take months to recover or in the worst case require surgical intervention/amputation. This is because increased blood glucose levels lead to a gradual weakening of the muscles and can crush the skin and subcutaneous tissue – also why diabetics are advised not to use hot packs.
Taking small precautions goes a long way in living a healthy life with diabetes. Diabetic neuropathy may initially start as simple symptoms such as tingling or numbness in the toes or a feeling of being on cotton. It can also cause a sharp burning sensation in the feet, usually at night. These symptoms should not be ignored and you should see your doctor if they bother you. These are treatable problems and, if treated in time, can prevent long-term problems with diabetic foot etc.
To avoid complications related to diabetes, you must not only control your sugar, but also control blood pressure and cholesterol levels. To smoke also increases the risk of diabetes-related complications, so it is paramount to quit smoking if you have diabetes.
Effective diabetes management and proper care can prevent surgical intervention/amputation and minimize the risk of infection. It is recommended to exercise extreme caution if one suffers from diabetes. Wash your hands and feet daily with lukewarm water and soap and dry them well. Apply a moisturizing cream twice a day. Always check your skin for rashes, blisters, or cuts. For every pain, swear, or blackness – time is key. Patients should consult a vascular surgeon at the earliest to ensure adequate blood flow and provide advice on wound care if necessary.
So the next time you reach for that hot water bottle or the heated blanket, keep this in mind!
(Dr. Hemi Soneja is senior consultant – endocrinologist at Max Hospital, Gurugram)
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