Whether you’re a “newcomer” to diabetes or you’ve had it for many years, a medical professional that you might consider adding to your diabetes care team is a podiatrist.
Otherwise known as a “foot doctor,” a podiatrist, for many people, is a key part of the healthcare team. Learn more about what a podiatrist does and why you might need one on your team.
According to the website Vocabulary.com, “The word podiatrist is composed of two ancient Greek parts: pod, meaning ‘foot,’ and iatrist, meaning ‘healer.’” A podiatrist is a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine, or DPM. This type of physician or surgeon is trained to diagnose and treat conditions that affect the feet, ankles and related structures of the leg. Training to become a podiatrist includes four years of undergraduate school, four years at an accredited podiatric medical school, and then three to four years of foot and ankle surgical residency training.
You might be wondering what the difference is between a podiatrist and an orthopedist, or orthopedic doctor. While there is some overlap between the two, a podiatrist only treats foot and ankle conditions, medically and surgically. An orthopedist treats the entire musculoskeletal system, not just feet and ankles (although some orthopedists specialize in the lower extremities, too). In some situations, both podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons are qualified to treat a foot or ankle-related condition, and it’s ultimately a matter of choosing the doctor you feel most comfortable with or who has the most experience in treating the condition.
Like other healthcare professionals, a podiatrist may specialize in a particular area, such as surgery, sports medicine, pediatrics, geriatrics, orthopedics or primary care. Podiatrists treat people with a wide range of chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, peripheral arterial disease and obesity. The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) states that there are about 18,000 podiatrists practicing in the United States.
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While we sometimes take our feet for granted, it’s amazing (and a little scary) to think of the problems and conditions that affect the feet. Luckily, that’s why we have podiatrists! Podiatrists treat a number of conditions, including:
You might be wondering why or how a podiatrist can help someone with diabetes. Taking a “step” back, it helps to understand how diabetes can affect your feet.
Part of diabetes self-management is foot care. Your primary care provider, endocrinologist or diabetes educator may remind you to “check your feet” every day. That’s because diabetes can cause nerve damage, circulation problems and infections that can lead to serious foot problems. A tiny cut on your foot can lead to a foot infection, a foot ulcer, and even an amputation. In fact, if you have diabetes, the lifetime risk for a foot ulcer is 25%; between 9% and 25% of foot ulcers lead to amputation. Fortunately, these problems can be prevented or delayed, but it requires you to take an active role. By checking your feet every day, you can catch issues early on and seek treatment.
Not sure how to check your feet? Here’s how:
If anything doesn’t look or feel right, let your provider know right away. Depending on the issue, your provider may refer you to a podiatrist for further diagnosis and treatment.
Taking care of your feet is also important. That means:
Not everyone with diabetes needs to see a podiatrist. However, if you have any issues with your feet (especially issues that could be related to diabetes), it’s a good idea to work with a podiatrist. When a podiatrist is involved with your care, your risk of amputation and hospitalization can dramatically decrease, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association. A podiatrist can:
Your primary care provider can certainly help with these issues, as well, but a podiatrist is specially trained to treat problems of the feet and lower legs; they can also spot early signs of potential trouble and take steps to prevent them from worsening.
If you would like to see a podiatrist, start with your primary care provider. He or she can likely recommend a podiatrist that is part of your health plan. You may need a referral to see a podiatrist, too.
You can also find a podiatrist online through The American Board of Podiatric Medicine or the American Podiatric Medical Association. Be sure to check and make sure that the podiatrist participates in your health plan unless you are willing to pay out of pocket.
Before deciding on a podiatrist, do your homework. Consider asking questions, such as:
Once you have your podiatry appointment scheduled, prepare for your visit. Some tips include:
Don’t be shy about letting the podiatrist know about your blood sugars, A1C, if you smoke, or any symptoms or issues that you are worried about. This is all important information that will help the podiatrist help you!
Want to learn more about keeping your feet healthy with diabetes? Read “Caring for Your Feet When You Have Diabetes,” “How to Choose Footwear” and “Improving Blood Flow to the Feet.”
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