Aches & PainsAlternative MedicineChildren's HealthDisabilitiesDisease, Illness & ConditionsEye CareFirst AidHealth Care IndustryInjuriesMental HealthOlder AdultsOral HealthReproductive HealthWellness

Foot and Leg Blisters: Water Retention or Diabetic Complication?

Updated on April 7, 2017
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Degrees in medicine, psychology & sports. 20+ yrs research/treatment in allopathic & alternative medicines, brain studies, space medicine.

How are your legs today - smooth and feeling good, or achy and blistered?
How are your legs today - smooth and feeling good, or achy and blistered? | Source

Disclaimer: I present the following information distilled from my own experiences while working in two health psychology practices for over a decade of employment, and in subsequent alternative health practice.

The information below should not be substituted for one's own healthcare practitioner's advise, based on one's own case history and current health status. When in doubt, see your physician or other practitioner.

Some conditions are misdiagnosed as water retention.
Some conditions are misdiagnosed as water retention. | Source

American Diabetes Association Assertion

Diabetic Blisters (Bullosis Diabeticorum)

Rarely, people with diabetes erupt in blisters.

Diabetic blisters can occur on the backs of fingers, hands, toes, feet, and sometimes, on legs or forearms. These sores look like burn blisters and often occur in people who have diabetic neuropathy. They are sometimes large, but they are painless and have no redness around them. They heal by themselves, usually without scars, in about three weeks. The only treatment is to bring blood sugar levels under control. Reference: Retrieved March 10, 2015.

NOTE: The American Diabetes Association states that the only sure treatment is to bring blood sugar levels under control to the advised healthy level.

However, there is such a condition as uncontrollable diabetes, just as there is uncontrollable high blood pressure. I have found among people I have known with these blisters that they may be painless until opened purposely by a patient or opened accidentally by clothing rubbing against them. The open areas are sites for the infiltration of bacteria and infections that can be deadly. They can be extremely painful.

Other Causes:

Blisters can be caused by friction, when diabetics suffer related nerve damage (neuropathy) and can no longer feel their fingers, hands, toes, and feet. They sometimes cannot tell whether their shoes fit and some cannot bend over to see their feet and possible blisters, because of obesity. The blisters may become large, opened, and infected.

Candida albicans is a fungus that can infect diabetics and cause blisters. This causes a red itchy rash surrounded by blisters and scales in heavy moist folds of skin, like under the breasts, between digits, under foreskins, and armpits/groin. Prescription medications help.

Personal Experience

A woman in my neighborhood suffered from diabetes for many years. She passed off the large and growing blisters on her leg as hereditary water retention that could not be treated.

This individual finally required surgery to the legs and feet to remove dead tissues and crumbling bones in one toe. This was followed by the removal of a toe on each foot.

Water retention, also known as fluid retention, refers to an excessive build up of fluid in the circulatory system, body tissues, or cavities in the body (not on the skin).

— Christian Nordqvist; Medical News Today; September 8, 2015
How are your legs doing?
How are your legs doing? | Source

Blood Glucose Levels Must Be Controlled

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A glucose molecule.A cocaine molecule. Scientists have pointed out similarities between the gluccose and cocaine molecules. Is sugar addicting?
A glucose molecule.
A glucose molecule.
A cocaine molecule. Scientists have pointed out similarities between the gluccose and cocaine molecules. Is sugar addicting?
A cocaine molecule. Scientists have pointed out similarities between the gluccose and cocaine molecules. Is sugar addicting?

Embarrassment and Denial

Huge blisters on the lower legs and arms can present an embarrassment to the patient suffering complications of diabetes mellitus. A temptation exists to explain these monstrosities away as a manifestation of water retention on the part of both patients and some healthcare practitioners.

Some of these blisters are so exorbitant as to take up the entire surface area of a lower leg, thigh, or forearm. Various treatments may or may not work, causing extreme frustrations in suffering individuals. Some patients comply with all treatments, yet nothing works to relief and eliminate the blisters. A few patients take a stance of denial of diabetic complications in order to protect and sustain diabetes-risk behaviors that they do not want to give up. These individuals, I think must be more miserable than the res

Some individuals that persist in risky behaviors reach a point at which they can no longer wear long-legged pants/trousers or sleeves of any kind on blouses and shirts, because the material rubs the blisters down to raw open wounds.

A few people pop the blisters against the advise of the physicians and the resultant wounds become infected, some ulcerated, even to a life-threatening extent of deadly infection. These affected people thought that the blisters would go away if opened and the fluids allowed drained, yet some of them lost a leg or both legs as a result. However, this is not common.

Major potential symptoms of diabetes.
Major potential symptoms of diabetes. | Source

Diabetic Complications Can be Widespread

While the few patients that deny their complications as related to diabetes rationalize all these potentially dangerous symptoms, they do so in order to protect and sustain self-destructive behaviors such as

  1. Ingesting large quantities of sugar and carbohydrates - sometimes daily,
  2. Refusing or forgetting to test their blood sugar levels, and
  3. Forgetting or refusing to take their diabetic treatment medications in tablet and/or injection forms.

Some suffering individuals mistakenly believe that if they take their medications as directed, they can simply eat as much sugar - and anything else - as they like. Others dismiss blood sugar rises with statements such as, "Sure my blood sugar goes up, but it comes right back down."

In some of these cases, the body's requirement for diabetic medications seems to increase in numbers of separate medicines prescribed and in rising dosages of each. For example, given increasing instances of diabetically risky daily behaviors, a patient may progress from A) taking one oral medication to B) requiring two oral medications and two different types of injection insulin on a daily basis (I saw this extreme only once).


Type II Diabetes (adult onset) can begin in teenagers and a few isolated parents may not notice or may refuse to consult a healthcare practitioner about it.

They may think symptoms will go away or are faked. However, overly-frequent urination is uncomfortable, embarrassing, inconvenient, and a sign that a medical condition may be present, particularly Diabetes Type I. Yet in isolated cases, a parent (especially on a trip) will refuse to allow the teen to stop for the restroom.

The young person begins hiding symptoms and refusing to go anywhere, because of difficulties in being allowed to use the restroom. Risky eating behaviors and diabetic complications escalate and are hidden in the future or rationalized as something less severe.

One example is a couple who are of average height, both over 350 pounds in weight, eat in restaurants for dinner 7 day a week - but TWO restaurants each night and two full dinners each. They also eat big unhealthy breakfasts and lunches. They crave carbohydrates rather than sugary desserts.

Another example of diabetically risky behavior would be an uninsured 400-pound woman only 5"0" tall who does not/can not comply with medical advise, medications, and instructions, and eats 400 chocolate candy bars a year in addition to unhealthy restaurant meals.

You can have healthy legs.
You can have healthy legs. | Source


The first best treatment for diabetic blisters is to lower the blood sugar level and to keep it at a healthy level through effective nutrition, exercise, and medications as needed.

Leg bandages covered by a compression bandage.
Leg bandages covered by a compression bandage. | Source

One other medical treatment for diabetic blisters that some practitioners employ is the thorough cleansing of the affected blistered areas (the process can be painful if the blisters have been purposely popped or rubbed open by clothing), applying topical antibiotic medication, and if apparent on the limbs of the patient, wrapping these limbs tightly with gauze and then with elastic bandages over the gauze for several days.

Some patients use wrapped gauze on the legs under a type of elastic hosiery used to prevent blood clots in the legs. Please do not try this on your own without a doctor, because most official advice from the American Diabetic Association and other legitimate health organizations is that the blisters (un-popped) will heal themselves in 2 to 4 weeks, but blood sugar level must be controlled to sustain healing.


  • Practice Resources for Diabetes Professionals. › Research & Practice. Retrieved March 31, 2017.
  • National Diabetes Education Program; NIH. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Continuing Education, Summer 2016.
  • Blisters. Chapter Four, Practical Skin Pathology; pp 187 - 194.. Diya Mutasim. March 27, 2015.
  • CDC: Diabetes. Retrieved May 14, 2015.
  • The Ohio State University, Wexner Medical Center and the Diabetes and Metabolism Research Center. Grand Rounds, 2014 - 2017.

© 2010 Patty Inglish

Comments and Experiences

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • susannah42 profile image

      susannah42 6 years ago from Florida

      Good Hub. Always looking for information about diabetes, my dad has it and I want to learn as much as I can.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from North America

      Thanks, susannah42 - The blisters are particular are frustrating to sufferers and interfere with life. I'll be looking for more research in this area.

    • Om Paramapoonya profile image

      Om Paramapoonya 6 years ago

      I'm not diabetic (yet!), but diabetes runs in my family. So I've been trying to educate myself about diabetes as much as I can. This hub is very informative and well presented. Thanks for sharing, Patty. :)

    • SteveoMc profile image

      SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

      Very informative. Thank you for the explanations.

    • Seakay profile image

      Seakay 6 years ago from Florida

      My daughter is diabetic. She is now an adult but it's still a scary thing to deal with.

      Thanks for the additional information! Any time I see writings on diabetes, I'm interested!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from North America

      Well, let's all control blood sugar to the best of our abilities, get medical advice if we need it, and be supportive of diabetics. Someone once asked me if there is a required or recommended daily amount of sugar intake suggested by the US government - I had to answer "0". It's a problem with Halloween candy overflowing store shelves right now.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      My partner is diabetic and he has these little water blisters, however we didn't know they were related to diabeties until wa read this. I am bookmarking this one in my 'most useful' hubs.

      Thank you for sharing Patty.

      A brilliant and informative hub.

      Take care.

    • Alison Graham profile image

      Alison Graham 6 years ago from UK

      Thanks for all the information here. My Dad had Diabetes Type 2 so I am watchful myself as I do not want to suffer the complications he had. I did not know this about the blisters, voted up and useful.

    • D.Virtual.Doctor profile image

      Funom Theophilus Makama 6 years ago from Europe

      This is such an awesome hub about diabetes. Its an invaluable information for people with diabetes to know. Not only for such people but even for non-diabetic individuals too, for a good spread and proper education on diabetes. Nice hub and thanks for sharing..

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

      A very helpful and important information. Thank you.

    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 6 years ago

      High sugar levels is very damaging to the body. I try not to consume too much sugar. It is sometimes frustrating because I am unable to find things in the grocery store that doesn't have too much sugar. Many things have either added sugar or "diet" with sugar substitutes. I think manufactures knows that sugary-taste makes their products sell better and that it is somewhat addictive (so that you buy more of it). But I don't think it is as addictive as cocanie.

    • profile image

      kelleyward 5 years ago

      I'm a type 1 diabetic and high blood sugar levels even just over 140 mg/dl for 1 hour have been shown to raise cardiac enzymes associated with the development of heart disease. Blood sugar control is key. Thanks for your interesting hub!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from North America

      Thanks for your experiences, everyone.

      Has anyone experience with Type 2 diabetics becoming violent when blood sugar dips too low? A neighbor is experiencing this and some research literature says it occurs. What if the person refuses to eat on time? It's a quandary.

    • nina64 profile image

      nina64 5 years ago from chicago, Illinois

      Hello Patty, I'm a type 2 diabetic and those blisters are nothing to joke about. In the beginning, I've had these blisters quite frequently; they are extremely painful and bothersome. The key to keeping these blisters under control is to monitor your blood sugar levels and to take your diabetes medication as directed by your doctor. A couple of years ago, I had to have surgery to remove a large painful boil because my blood sugar levels were elevated. If not treated right away, these blisters can spread. We must take care of ourselves!!!!!!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 5 years ago from North America

      100% TRUE AS YOU SAY! A friend began taking insulin treatment and her blisters disappeared.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 21 months ago from North America

      A long-distance acquaintance of mine who lives alone is soon to have foot surgery to remove necrotic tissues and decayed bones. He could not feel his feet for years and could not bend over far enough to see them, preventing him from discovering open lesions and broken toes. He learned of all this when he could not put on his shoes with his long shoehorn and called the EMTs.

    Click to Rate This Article