How Diabetes Can Affect the Health of Your Lower Extremity Arteries

The high blood glucose levels that accompany diabetes damage the arteries that are part of your circulatory system. When the blood flow through the arteries in your legs and feet slows, a condition known as peripheral artery disease (PAD), you may develop difficulty walking, pain in your foot or leg, or a toe or foot wound. 

People with diabetes run a higher risk of having complications related to lack of blood flow because diabetes also damages the nerves in your feet. The end result is that by the time you develop pain, the damage to the blood vessels has been extensive. 

The danger with diabetes is that the damage to the arteries occurs over many years, and this damage can be silent. Sometimes the first sign that there’s a problem might be the presence of a foot infection or a sore. When the nerves to the foot don’t function properly, how you walk and stand are affected. This leads to different pressure points on the sole of your foot, and over time, this can then develop into a wound. 

Lower nitric oxide levels

Over the past decade, we have gained a better understanding of how high blood sugar affects your vascular health. The process seems to start with changes to the way your body manufactures nitric oxide, a chemical that serves as a natural relaxing agent for your blood vessels. 

When the production of nitric oxide slows, the arteries don’t relax as much, which slows blood flow and possibly plays a role in the development of arterial blockages that ultimately lead to complications. 

There are a number of other factors that contribute to damaging blood vessels. As our understanding grows, we’ll develop better ways of targeting methods to lessen or reverse the effects of diabetes on blood vessels. 

Increased free radicals

At the same time as blood vessels contract due to low nitric oxide, your arteries are swimming with free radicals, molecules that cause cell damage and premature cell death. Damage to arterial walls from high blood sugar leads to atherosclerosis, which is the process that leads to peripheral artery disease. That means that blood flow to your extremities is at risk when your blood sugars run out of control.

Countering the effects of diabetes

While diabetes has profound effects on the arteries in your legs and feet, exercise and a healthy diet can counter some of these effects. Walking can be of tremendous benefit to people with diabetes, as long as precautions are taken to never walk barefoot and to wear properly fitted shoes that do not contribute to the development of skin tears. 

Weight lifting and resistance exercises also provide benefits by triggering other processes such as increases in muscle and bone mass. Not only do these lifestyle changes help to regulate your blood sugar, exercise also lessens the potential complications that can arise from the nerve damage associated with diabetes.

Following a healthy diet that is low in simple carbohydrates and fats promotes both lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels. In conjunction with increased activity levels and exercise, healthier eating addresses the source issues created by diabetes. In combination with insulin or diabetes medications, you can develop a strong toolkit to protect your vascular health. 

Dr. Diego Hernandez and his team at Bloomfield Vein & Vascular can help you deal with the effects of diabetes on your lower extremity arteries. We spend time to explain the consequences of having arterial blockages due to diabetes and provide you with strategies to minimize complications. 

If you’re already suffering from peripheral arterial disease, it may manifest itself in a number of ways, such as:

Dr. Hernandez’s expertise and experience can guide you through a process that can improve flow to your legs, and avoid the potential complications that are associated with diabetes. 

Call the office in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, or request an appointment online today to fast track your way back to improving your vascular health. 

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