We’ve come a long way in reducing the impact of diabetes on people’s lives, however complications can still arise. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is key to reducing your risks for complications but having uncontrolled blood sugar can lead you to develop a wound that is very slow to heal.
Problems with healing wounds can be one of the most frustrating complications of diabetes. “Any wound may be slow to heal if you have diabetes, but diabetic foot ulcers which are the most common type of diabetes related wound, can be particularly dangerous,” said Michael Petersen, MD, Vascular Surgeon and Medical Director of Mather Hospital’s Wound Treatment Center. According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, it’s estimated that between 19 and 34 percent of people with diabetes will struggle with at least one foot ulcer in their lifetime. Unfortunately, this can become a chronic issue with an estimated 40 percent of patients having a recurrence within a year after healing. Diabetes remains the number one cause for limb loss (major amputations) in the United States.
How do diabetic foot ulcers occur?
Reduced blood flow to the legs and feet is a common circulatory complication of diabetes. If you have high glucose levels over an extended period, it can lead to plaque buildup in the blood vessels, making it more difficult for the circulatory system to move oxygen and nutrients via blood throughout the body.
Chronically high blood sugar can also cause neuropathy or nerve damage. Damage to blood vessels and nerves caused by diabetes typically affects the feet. If you have neuropathy in your feet, you might not feel discomfort from a small cut or callus. This means you could potentially develop a serious wound without realizing it. If you add poor circulation to this scenario, the lack of consistent blood supply can slow the healing process by making it more difficult for the body to deliver nutrients needed to heal wounds and fight infections. A small cut on your foot can then progress to an infection and in serious cases, especially if left untreated, result in limb loss.
How can I prevent diabetic foot ulcers?
When it comes to preventing diabetic foot ulcers, Dr. Petersen offers some guidance on simple steps you can take to stay on your feet:
- Inspect both feet daily for blisters, cuts, scratches, and ingrown toenails. You should also check the bottom of your feet in a mirror. “If there is an injury, have a medical professional evaluate and treat it immediately,” Dr. Petersen said.
- Monitor your feet for signs of infection such as redness, swelling, and warmth. If you notice any changes, seek treatment with your health care provider immediately.
- Carefully choose footwear to protect your feet. Never walk barefoot or with sandals that can expose your feet to splinters, concrete or sand which can scrape and irritate your foot. You should also avoid high-heeled shoes which can put unnecessary strain on the foot and pinch the skin.
“It is also key to continue to manage your diabetes and maintain your overall health to help prevent diabetic complications.” Be sure to:
- Follow a healthy eating plan.
- Be physically active.
- Take your medications
- Manage your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Quit smoking.
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
- Keep regular appointments with your health care team.