Why hot water bottles or heating pads can be harmful for diabetics

What’s better than a hot water bottle or a heated blanket, especially in winter, to keep your toes warm or just relax that stiff back after a hectic day at work? But turns out that something which is so commonly used by people the world over can be a big health hazard for those with diabetes.

Diabetes is a disease of complications and, most of the time, people don’t get any related symptoms early on during the course of the disease. And if long-standing diabetes (type 1 or type 2 diabetes) has started affecting your nerves, the sensation of the skin for hot or cold temperatures decreases. In such situations, using hot water bottles or heated blankets can cause significant burns, which can prove quite problematic.

This is also why patients with diabetes are recommended to keep their toes covered when they go out for a walk or even inside the house, particularly if they are known to have problems with neuropathy.

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One of the most common complications associated with diabetics is sensitivity and no pain sensation, a condition where even the minutest wound, rash, or allergy may get converted into gangrene, which may take months to recover or in worst situations, require surgical intervention/amputation. This is because increased blood glucose levels lead to gradual weakening of the muscles, and may cause the skin and subcutaneous tissues to get crushed — also why diabetics are advised not to use hot packs.

Effective management of diabetes and proper care can prevent surgical intervention/amputation and minimize the chances of any infection (Source: Pixabay)

Taking small precautions goes a long way in leading a healthy life with diabetes. Diabetic neuropathy may initially start as simple symptoms like some tingling or numbness in toes or feeling as if you are walking on cotton. It may also cause a sharp burning sensation in the feet, typically at night. These symptoms should not be ignored and you should consult your doctor if you experience any. These are treatable problems and, if handled on time, can prevent long-term issues with diabetic foot etc.

To avoid developing complications related to diabetes, in addition to keeping your sugar under control, also make sure the blood pressure and cholesterol levels are in check. Smoking also increases the risk of diabetes-related complications, so it is of paramount importance to quit smoking when you have diabetes.

Effective management of diabetes and proper care can prevent surgical intervention/amputation and minimize the chances of any infection. It is advised to take utmost care if one is suffering from diabetes. Daily wash your hands and feet with lukewarm water and soap and dry them properly. Apply moisturiser twice daily. Always keep a check on your skin for rashes, blisters or cuts. For any pain, ulcer, or blackness – time is the key. Patients must consult a vascular surgeon at the earliest to ensure the adequacy of blood flow and advise of wound care if any.

So next time when you reach out for that hot water bottle or the heated blanket, be mindful of this!

(Dr Hemi Soneja is a senior consultant – endocrinologist at Max Hospital, Gurugram) 

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