Dry Skin & Diabetics
Type 1 diabetes most commonly begins in children and teenagers, and requires daily insulin injections because the pancreas no longer produces insulin. Type 2 diabetes typically first appears in adults older than 40, occurring when the body's cells become resistant to insulin. This form of diabetes often can be controlled with a low-carbohydrate diet and an exercise program, but sometimes insulin or other medication is necessary--at least temporarily. Dry skin is associated with both types of diabetes if blood sugar is not properly controlled.
Dry skin can be an early sign of Type 2 diabetes, sometimes developing a long time before the person notices any other symptoms. He may assume he's prone to abnormally dry skin, including cracking and slow-healing sores. Type 1 diabetes also may first appear with dry skin symptoms, but the rapid onset of this disease makes symptoms such as increased thirst and urination much more obvious.
When a person's blood glucose is high, the body loses fluid through urination as it tries to remove the excess sugar. This can lead to chronic mild dehydration that causes dry skin, as explained by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). The dry skin may occur on legs, feet, elbows or other parts of the body.
Chronically high blood sugar can cause nerve damage in the hands and feet, a condition called peripheral neuropathy. This nerve damage can reduce perspiration that's beneficial for keeping skin soft and moist. The problem can be worsened if the nerve damage results in reduced sensation, which can delay the person from noticing how severe his dry skin is becoming. Skin can become so dry that it cracks. This can lead to ulcerations or infected sores that are slow to heal due to nerve damage.
Another reason for slow healing of sores in people with diabetes is poor circulation in the arms and legs, a condition called peripheral vascular disease. Additionally, as with neuropathy, poor circulation can cause a decrease in perspiration that keeps skin moist. Another blood flow condition causing dry skin is known as diabetic dermopathy, as explained by the Cleveland Clinic. This involves scaly patches of skin resulting from damage to small blood vessels that supply the skin with blood.
Dry skin and diabetes can be a vicious cycle. If dry skin cracks, germs can enter and cause infection. High blood glucose feeds germs and worsens the infection, as noted by the NIH. An infection that doesn't heal because of poor circulation may lead to gangrene, the death of tissue due to lack of blood. Preventing the spread of gangrene may require amputation of a toe, foot or even part of the leg. Diabetes is the most common, non-traumatic factor in leg amputations, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
People with diabetes should monitor their blood sugar regularly to ensure they keep it in the correct range. If blood sugar is regulated and no permanent nerve or blood vessel damage has occurred, the dry skin should clear up. Diabetics should check their hands and feet for dry skin every day so they can prevent more serious problems. Using moisturizing soaps, lotions and creams can help. So can drinking plenty of fluids, including water, to keep skin moist and healthy.
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