What is the Link Between Diabetes and Itching?

T. Broderick

Poor blood circulation caused by diabetes is the primary link between diabetes and itching. High blood sugar causes the blood vessels of the feet and legs to narrow and harden. Nerve damage results, creating an itching sensation in diabetes patients. Not only is itching of the feet and legs a symptom of diabetes, it is the first of many serious conditions that can develop. If a diabetes patient does not manage his or her diabetes, itching can quickly become ulcers, calluses and severe infection possibly requiring amputation.

Diabetes may cause itching hands and feet due to poor blood circulation.
Diabetes may cause itching hands and feet due to poor blood circulation.

Though there is a link between diabetes and itching for all diabetes patients, it is much greater when the patient has type 2 diabetes. Similar to how excess fat damages arteries in the heart, the excess sugar circulating through the body damages the delicate blood vessels of the legs and feet. Inadequate blood flow causes nerves to misfire. The itching sensation is a warning signal that damage is occurring. If a person is at risk for diabetes and itching in the legs starts unexpectedly, he or she should visit a doctor.

The link between diabetes and itching is typically greater when the patient has type 2 diabetes.
The link between diabetes and itching is typically greater when the patient has type 2 diabetes.

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Besides being a symptom of diabetes, itching legs for an already diagnosed diabetes patient is a clear indicator that the patient needs to adjust his or her lifestyle. In order to maintain a normal level of blood sugar, patients must listen to what their bodies are telling them. Patients who have diabetes and itching even though they are living a healthy lifestyle may want to consult their doctor. A doctor will perform tests to determine whether the itching is due to diabetes or another possibly unrelated condition.

In diabetes patients, high blood sugar causes the blood vessels of the feet and legs to narrow and harden.
In diabetes patients, high blood sugar causes the blood vessels of the feet and legs to narrow and harden.

A diabetes patient who follows his or her doctor's prescribed regimen will generally stop having episodes of itching. Though some nerve damage has occurred, reduced blood sugar will keep the legs and feet healthy. If type 2 diabetes is left unchecked, though, itching is only first one of many degenerative conditions. Reduced blood flow will cause the legs and feet to develop ulcers and calluses. Sweat and oil glands will not be able to work due to nerve damage. Finally, the development of necrosis and/or gangrene will necessitate a surgeon to remove the foot or the entire leg.

An extended reduction of blood circulation to the toes may require amputation.
An extended reduction of blood circulation to the toes may require amputation.
In cases of poorly-managed diabetes, itching can quickly become a severe infection that requires amputation.
In cases of poorly-managed diabetes, itching can quickly become a severe infection that requires amputation.

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Discussion Comments

bluedolphin

Neuropathy is the most worrisome complication for every diabetic. I hope that I will never face it but I realize that the risks are high.

I do take extra care of my feet for this reason. I keep my feet clean and warm. I routinely check for any injuries or wounds and keep my skin moisturized. I also look out for sensations like itching, tingling, pins and needles, etc.

Sometimes in winter, my feet become numb and my toes turn purple due to poor blood circulation. That's why I always use a hot water bag in winter to keep my feet warm and my circulation going. I also use foot warmer stickers inside my shoes when I have to be outdoors for long periods of time.

SteamLouis

@serenesurface-- Itching is a symptom of diabetes but I think it occurs when someone has been suffering from diabetes for some time. The itching has to do with the negative effects of high blood sugar on blood circulation, veins and nerves.

I'm not a doctor but as far as I know, gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy. But it's also possible that someone didn't know that they were diabetic or pre-diabetic before getting pregnant. So I think that itching may be a sign of gestational diabetes. But if it's mild and if it goes away quickly, it may have to do with natural hormone changes during pregnancy. Excessive and persistent itching can also be a sign of kidney dysfunction.

Either way, an expecting mother with itching should see her doctor about this symptom.

serenesurface

What about itching and pregnancy? Is itching a sign of gestational diabetes?

My sister is four months pregnant and has been experiencing a lot of itching in her feet. Could diabetes be the cause?

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