A foot ulcer is one of the most common and serious complications for people with diabetes, occurring in approximately 15% of patients, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association. Diabetic ulcers on the foot can occur in anyone with type 1 and type 2 diabetes and refer to an open sore on the foot, usually forming under big toes and at the bottom of feet. The main reasons people with diabetes develop foot ulcers are:
- Trauma or injury to the foot
- Poorly fitting shoes
- Poor blood flow to the foot
- Increased pressure to the foot
- Nerve damage which means you are unable to feel your feet properly
If you've had a diabetic ulcer on the foot for a long time, you are at greater risk of infection, which can spread from the wound to the bone. While there are antibiotics that can treat these infections, if too much bone has been damaged, the foot will have to be removed or amputated.
Therefore patients and caregivers need to be able to identify these types of wounds to prevent them from getting worse. So how do you know if you have a diabetic foot ulcer?
If the ulcer is at an advanced stage, it should be obvious. A foot ulcer looks like a round red crater in the skin bordered by thickened callused skin. Severe ulcers can be deep enough to expose tendons or bones. However, other symptoms may not be easy to identify or could be an indication of another problem. That being said, here are some of the common signs of diabetic foot ulcers to look out for.
Unusual swelling and redness: In the early stages of a foot ulcer, you may notice irritation or swelling of the skin around the wound. There may also be a warm sensation close to the affected area, which could be due to peripheral neuropathy (damage to the nerves).
Drainage on your sock or in your shoes: You might see discharge seeping out from the wound and staining your shoes and socks. All types of open wounds come with some kind of drainage that consists of a combination of pus, blood and other fluids and can be a sign of infection, but not always. If you notice drainage from a wound on your foot, contact a doctor immediately. A pungent odor may also accompany this discharge.
Discoloration: One of the most common signs of diabetic foot ulcers is black or brown tissue called eschar that often appears around the wound because of a lack of blood flow to the feet. Wounds that have progressed to the stages where they're covered by eschar can lead to severe problems. Broken skin on the wound provides an easy access route for bacteria to enter the body, where they may cause a skin infection called cellulitis or potentially life-threatening sepsis (the body's extreme response to infection).
Blisters, corns and calluses: While these are common in people with diabetes, they are often linked to the development of diabetic foot wounds if they haven't healed after a significant period.
Body fever and chills: Like most infections, a developing foot ulcer may cause fever and chills. This is a sign that your body is trying to fight infection. Fever makes it harder for bacteria to survive and activates your immune system. Severe fever indicates the infection is becoming more widespread.
Persistent pain when walking: You may experience constant pain in the legs when walking or foot pain when elevating your legs.
Athlete's foot: This fungal infection causes dry, cracked skin and should be treated straight away. Otherwise, you could be more vulnerable to serious complications such as foot ulcers.
Partial or complete gangrene: The risk of gangrene, a type of tissue death, is higher in people with diabetes. Symptoms of gangrene include swelling, blisters, sudden, severe pain, thin, shiny skin and skin discoloration. Depending on the type of gangrene, the color can be blue, red, purple, black or bronze.
What To Do If You Notice A Problem
The signs of diabetic ulcers on the foot should never be left untreated. If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above or think you might have a foot sore or ulcer, you should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible to avoid further damage and possible infection. The earlier you seek medical help, the less chance of complications further down the line.
Here at the Midwest Institute for Non-Surgical Treatment (MINT), we have qualified podiatrists who can provide you with the right treatment for your diabetic foot ulcer. We'll also advise you on how best to look after your feet to prevent reoccurrences.
Book an appointment with Dr. Akinwande and the team who can treat you at one of our convenient locations in the St Louis area. Call us today, and we'll get you back on your feet and the path to recovery.