Wound Care for Diabetic Feet
As the percentage of the population living with diabetes continues to climb, so too does the number of people suffering from diabetic ulcers or wounds on their feet.
Diabetic wounds need immediate, specialized care in order to achieve the best possible outcome. You won’t always feel much pain because ulcers are more likely to form when sensation in your lower limbs has been dulled by neuropathy. Instead you may notice redness, swelling, drainage in your socks, or even a foul odor.
A wound that won’t heal can quickly lead to infection, and an infection left unchecked could cost you a toe, a foot, a leg, or even your life.
Why Diabetic Ulcers Form
Diabetes can create a perfect storm for wound formation. Unregulated blood sugar can damage peripheral nerves (a condition called neuropathy), deadening your sense of feeling in the feet. It also slows your circulation, which in turn impairs your immune system and natural healing processes. Trauma due to accidents and progressive foot deformities such as bunions are more likely to occur.
Due to reduced sensation, you may not detect an injury, cut, or scrape until long after the fact, and slowed circulation means that any ulcer that subsequently forms may not heal on its own. When this happens, don’t try to take matters into your own hands—schedule an appointment with us right away. Considering the consequences, it’s not worth taking the risks.
Providing Professional Wound Care
When you show up at our office with a diabetic wound, our focus will be on preventing infection (or treating any infection already present) and bringing about healing as quickly as possible.
Wound treatment is composed of several independent steps, including:
- Off-loading: You need to reduce weight and pressure on the injury as much as possible to allow it to heal. Depending on your situation, we may provide a brace, boot, crutches, or a wheelchair for you to use for a period of time.
- Debridement: We’ll clean the wound site of any dead or damaged skin and tissue.
- Apply medication and dressing to the wound as necessary.
If an infection is diagnosed, additional steps will need to be undertaken in order to reverse the progression. This might include a period of hospitalization if necessary, as well as immediate antibiotic treatments.
In the days and weeks following your treatment, you may need to reapply medications and re-bandage the ulcer periodically, as well as return for scheduled follow-up appointments.
Regulating your blood sugar levels is one of the most important post-treatment recovery steps. If necessary, we’ll refer you to an endocrinologist or other specialist if you need help keeping glucose within optimal parameters during the healing process.
Surgery is rarely necessary to treat a diabetic wound, although in severe cases procedures such as shaving bone or correction of complicating deformities such as hammertoes or bunions may be recommended.
Recovery time can vary considerably depending on factors such as your general health, ability to off-load pressure on the wound site, ability to regulate glucose levels, circulation quality, and more. Plan on at least a couple of weeks before you’re ready to use the foot normally again. Some cases, however, may require months.
An Ounce of Prevention
Foot ulcers are a common complication of diabetes, but they are by no means inevitable. In fact, the vast majority of cases (and virtually all amputations) are preventable with disciplined self-care and prompt medical attention when problems arise.
Prevention strategies include:
- Keep feet clean and moisturized and check them thoroughly at least once per day for any trouble spots
- Carefully keep your blood sugar levels in check
- Quit smoking and avoid excessive drinking
- Take steps to reduce conditions such as obesity or high cholesterol through a combination of lifestyle changes and/or medications
- Choose supportive, comfortable, closed-toed shoes that are firm at the heel but give toes space to wiggle. Check them before putting them on to ensure there are no hidden objects lurking inside. Custom-made orthotics can also help.
Don’t underestimate the danger of a diabetic wound. If you notice any signs of ulceration, including redness or drainage, don’t give it the chance to become something more. Instead, call the experts at Kansas Foot Center in Wichita at 866.222.5177.