Learn About the Benefits of Compression Therapy During Diabetes Awareness Month
November is National Diabetes Month in the United States, and November 14 is World Diabetes Day. More than 420 million people around the world have diabetes, and more than 30 million of them live in the U.S.
Diabetes is a serious condition that must be managed through lifestyle changes. In this article, we’ll explain what diabetes is and what signs and symptoms to look out for. We’ll then examine the five ways compression therapy can help those with diabetes, as well as looking at the gear that can help diabetics manage their condition.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes occurs when your body cannot properly regulate your blood sugar — aka glucose — levels. Your body takes food and turns it into glucose through the following process: Your stomach digests the food, using acids and enzymes to break down carbohydrates (sugars and starches) into glucose. Your stomach and small intestines then absorb the glucose and release it into the bloodstream.
Your pancreas, an organ near the stomach, secretes a hormone called insulin that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood. However, sometimes your body doesn’t make enough insulin, or the insulin doesn’t function as it should. When this happens, glucose builds up in your blood and can’t reach your cells, causing diabetes.
There are three main types of diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes
This type of diabetes occurs when your body doesn’t make insulin, period. Instead, your immune system destroys the pancreas cells that make insulin. Type 1 diabetes can appear at any age, but it’s most commonly diagnosed in children and young adults. People who have this kind of diabetes need insulin every day to stay alive.
Type 2 diabetes
By far the most common type of diabetes, type 2 diabetes occurs when your body can’t make or use insulin very well. People can develop type 2 diabetes any time, even when they’re kids, but middle-aged and older individuals are more likely to develop it.
This type of diabetes develops in expecting women when they are pregnant, and it usually goes away after they give birth. However, women who have had gestational diabetes are at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Sometimes, type 2 diabetes isn’t diagnosed until a woman is pregnant, and it can be mistaken for gestational diabetes.
Less common types include monogenic diabetes and cystic fibrosis-related diabetes.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms?
It’s not always obvious that something is wrong with you if you have diabetes. More than 30 million people in the United states — nearly 10 percent of the population — have diabetes, but one in four people don’t even know they have the disease. Part of the problem is that not everyone gets the same symptoms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some potential signs to look out for include:
- frequent urination
- excessive thirst
- unexplained weight loss
- extreme hunger
- sudden vision changes
- tingling or numbness in hands or feet
- feeling very tired much of the time
- very dry skin
- sores that are slow to heal
- more infections than usual
In the less common type 1 diabetes, these symptoms may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting or stomach pains.
Certain risk factors also increase your chance of developing diabetes, including being overweight or obese, being age 45 or older and not being active. Certain ethnic groups — African Americans, Alaska natives, American Indians, Asian Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders — are also at greater risk for diabetes.
If you have any of these conditions, you may also be at increased risk for diabetes: family history of diabetes, high blood pressure, low level of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, high level of triglycerides, history of gestational diabetes, history of heart disease or stroke, depression, polycystic ovary syndrome or acanthosis nigricans — dark, thick and velvety skin around your neck or armpits.
It’s important to manage diabetes because over time high blood glucose can lead to other health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye problems, dental disease, nerve damage and foot problems. Alongside other important strategies such as diet and exercise, compression therapy can help keep diabetes in check.
How Can Compression Therapy Help Those with Diabetes?
Compression therapy can help address many of the unpleasant side effects of having diabetes — and even prevent the onset of some symptoms. Here are five benefits of compression therapy for diabetics:
Improved Venous Circulation
Diabetes negatively affects your circulation because high levels of blood glucose can damage blood vessels and cause plaque to build up, which impedes the blood’s ability to flow. Blood vessel damage can occur in the legs and feet in particular because gravity pulls on your blood and causes it to pool there, straining already compromised veins and valves. Fortunately, wearing compression socks can help combat the negative effects that diabetes has on your venous blood flow. These socks provide graduated pressure, starting stronger at the ankle and then tapering up the leg. This gentle pressure encourages the blood to keep moving, rather than pooling in your feet and lower legs.
Swelling — aka edema — is a common side effect of diabetes. This swelling often occurs in the limbs, which is called peripheral edema. Diabetes can cause edema because the venous damage or increased pressure causes the capillaries to leak fluid into surrounding tissues, resulting in swelling. Compression socks can help reduce swelling because the tight fabric doesn’t allow the skin to expand, instead forcing the collected fluids to disperse. The socks also encourage lymph and other fluids to keep flowing, rather than giving into gravity and pooling in the feet. It can be hard to stuff your swollen feet into compression socks after they’re already expanded, so it’s usually a good idea to put on compression socks first thing in the morning, before your feet have a chance to swell.
Reduced Risk of Blood Clots
Many factors can increase your risk of blood clots, and diabetes is one of them. In fact, almost 80 percent of people who have diabetes will eventually die of clot-related causes, according to the American Heart Association. Blood clots limit or block blood flow — not a good thing for diabetics who already have compromised circulation. And if the clots travel to arteries or veins in major organs such as the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs or limbs, it can lead to serious conditions such as heart attack, stroke, damage to the body’s organs or even death. Because compression therapy keeps your venous blood moving, it decreases your risk of developing a clot.
Improved Wound Healing
Diabetics are prone to injuries, ulcers and other complications because the neuropathy keeps people from recognizing problems before they progress. Compression therapy may be able to help if the wounds are related to venous disease. Improving venous circulation can speed up wound healing because the more blood flowing to the wound, the more nutrients and oxygen are delivered to the area. If you notice that your wounds aren’t healing as fast, you should talk to your doctor before putting a compression sock as some wounds may be a result of arterial insufficiency. If you have PVD, you should not wear compression stockings.
Types of Diabetes Gear
There are several different kinds of gear that can help diabetics manage and prevent symptoms. Here is a breakdown of our favorites:
Diabetic socks have two different roles to play: providing compression and preventing wounds. Compression is achieved by the elastic fabric as well as the special way the socks are woven to provide graduated pressure from the foot up the leg. Diabetic socks also incorporate many design features to help prevent irritation and wounds. Seamless construction eliminates rubbing against the skin, while breathable moisture-wicking fabrics keep feet dry. Square toe boxes give your toes plenty of room to wiggle around and ease discomfort, and many shoes feature extra padding to protect your feet from hard knocks. Most socks are fitted so that the fabric doesn’t bunch and rub against the skin, irritating it. Socks also act to keep your feet warm, dilating (expanding) your blood vessels and further increasing circulation.
The shape of diabetics’ feet can actually change, as the disease causes calluses to occur more often and build up more quickly. Many diabetics have to wear therapeutic shoes and inserts — sometimes even custom orthotics — in order to accommodate their feet and head off any further complications. Thankfully, there are many options for therapeutic shoes that look just like regular shoes. In particular, Dr. Comfort diabetic shoes are a popular choice, as the brand makes shoes specifically for those with diabetes. Dr. Comfort shoes are designed with input from board-certified podiatrists, and they’re available in a full range of sizes and difficult-to-fit widths as well as many styles, from dress shoes to athletic shoes to sandals and everything in between.
Cream and Lotion
While not a replacement for diabetic socks and shoes, creams and lotions can help treat the many podiatric problems that often surface in diabetics. Diabetic lotion can help keep feet moisturized, prevent cracks and dry skin that can lead to calluses and eventually the dreaded ulcers. Depending on the ingredients, certain formulations of cream can relieve foot pain or keep your legs cool underneath compression socks. Day lotions tend to be thinner and absorb more quickly, while night lotions go on thicker and really help your skin regenerate as you sleep.
Fight the Symptoms of Diabetes with Compression Therapy
Diabetes is a serious condition that can have severe and even fatal side effects if it’s left unchecked. However, if diabetes is managed properly, individuals who have this disease can live long, full lives free of most of the major side effects. Compression therapy is an important component in managing diabetes symptoms, along with other staples such as diet changes and exercise. If you suspect that you might have diabetes or that compression therapy could help improve your already diagnosed condition, talk to your doctor about it. And if you’ve already got the all-clear to buy compression socks, our knowledgeable customer support is always standing by and ready to assist whenever you need help picking out the perfect diabetic socks.
Kaki Zell - Vice President of Sales, Marketing, eCommerce at Legs-4-Life LLC Kaki holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Management from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She’s been working in the medical device industry for over 11 years and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Greensboro Science Center.
Written November 2018 | Page last updated December 2021
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