Diabetic ulcers on the foot are sores formed below the ankle as a result of a break in the skin that exposes layers underneath. Approximately one in four people with diabetes will develop at least one foot ulcer following diagnosis, and they're responsible for more hospital admissions than any other diabetic complication.
Diabetic foot ulcers typically start with an injury to the foot, such as from stepping on a nail or developing a blister from an ill-fitting shoe. In someone without diabetes, this type of wound will typically heal on its own, but the picture is more complex for people living with the metabolic disorder. When a foot ulcer develops, it can cause swelling, itching and a burning sensation. However, it can become deeper and worsen if not treated, causing severe complications. Among them are:
Diabetic ulcers on the feet are prone to skin infections, resulting in swelling around the wound site, foul-smelling drainage, fever and chills. If the infection spreads from the wound to the bone, the risk of amputation increases.
An infected diabetic foot ulcer may lead to the formation of an abscess, which is a painful accumulation of pus under the surface of the skin.
If the infection is deep enough, it may enter the bloodstream leading to sepsis. This is a potentially life-threatening condition when the body´s immune system overreacts to an infection and starts to damage tissues and organs. The symptoms include acting confused, blue or blotchy skin and difficulty breathing.
Long-term uncontrolled diabetes along with diabetic foot infections can weaken muscles and bones in the feet resulting in deformities. They may even cause Charcot foot, a serious complication of the joints, bones and soft tissue of the ankle or foot. The bones become fragile and start to dislocate or break in response to minor forces, even walking. If not dealt with at the early stage, foot joints can collapse. Charcot foot occurs in around 1% of people with neuropathy in diabetes.
Gangrene is the death of body tissue because of a bacterial infection or the loss of blood flow. It is characterized by discoloration of the skin, unusual pus or discharge from the area and loss of sensation in the affected part of the body. If a diabetic ulcer on the foot is not treated in good time, the skin tissues surrounding the wound can die because of an insufficient supply of blood and oxygen. This can lead to the formation of a black tissue called ischemia which is one of the first signs of gangrene.
Many people with diabetes have peripheral arterial disease (PAD), which reduces blood flow to the feet and neuropathy, a condition that numbs pain usually in the hands and feet. Together PAD and neuropathy make it easier to get ulcers and infections. Severe infections that do not respond to treatment threaten to spread into the bloodstream. To prevent this from happening, the affected foot may have to be amputated.
Tips To Prevent Diabetic Ulcers on the Foot
There are numerous preventable measures you can take that will reduce your risk of developing a diabetic ulcer on the foot and subsequent complications. Among these are:
- Maintain proper foot hygiene. Wash them daily with mild soap and warm water and dry thoroughly, paying special attention to dry between the toes.
- Maintain healthy blood sugar levels by eating the right foods.
- Regularly check your feet for any new cuts, scrapes or wounds.
- Wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes.
- Before putting on your shoes, check inside for sharp objects and give them a good shake.
- Avoid going barefoot even in your home.
- Stay active to maintain proper blood circulation in the feet. Daily walks will help keep your feet healthy.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Quit smoking if you´re a smoker because the habit affects blood circulation.
- Manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- If you have foot lesions or calluses, do not remove them yourself. See your doctor or podiatrist.
- Wear clean, dry socks and avoid those with tight elastic bands that can reduce blood circulation.
- Keep regular appointments with your healthcare team.
- Contact your doctor if you spot signs of trouble such as blisters, ingrown toenails, athlete´s foot, swelling, redness or discolored skin. They will be able to prescribe the most appropriate course of treatment.
At the Midwest Institute for Non-Surgical Therapy, our vascular specialists provide comprehensive diabetic wound care treatments. If you want to know more about foot ulcer complications and how we can help prevent them, contact MINT today or book an appointment online at at one of our 5 clinics, including the latest addition in Chicago, IL.