Diabetic foot ulcers can have serious consequences

Kellyn Jackson When most people get a cut on a foot or leg, they are able to heal it on their own with little or no trouble.

When you have a chronic illness such as diabetes, it can be much harder to heal these wounds, and they can even become life-threatening.

Diabetic foot ulcers are a common complication of poorly controlled diabetes. They are most common on the big toe and other pressure points, such as the ball of the foot and the heel.

Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that occurs with diabetes and causes weakness, numbness and pain in the hands and feet. People with diabetes often don’t know they have an ulcer on their foot until it becomes infected.

Some signs and symptoms of an ulcer include drainage, redness, swelling and odor. The most visible and serious sign of a foot ulcer is the formation of black tissue called eschar. This occurs when there is an absence of blood flow to the extremity or area of the ulcer. Gangrene refers to tissue death due to infection.

Both of these issues can be life-threatening and should be addressed immediately upon noticing them.

Treatment of diabetic foot ulcers might require medical management by a physician, who would remove damaged tissue from the wound. This can be done in an office setting or in the operating room for more severe wounds.

The physician might also suggest staying off your feet, which is called off-loading. Pressure from walking can make the ulcer worse and delay healing.

One form of off-loading is a TCC (total contact cast) which completely removes the pressure from the foot. Once the ulcer is healed, the physician might recommend diabetic shoes to prevent further ulcers.

According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, 14 to 24 percent of all patients with diabetes who develop a diabetic foot ulcer will require an amputation. That is why preventive care is crucial.

People with diabetes need to closely monitor their blood glucose and see a physician regularly for diabetes management. Diabetics should also wash and inspect their feet daily, always wear shoes in the house and outdoors, and keep their toenails trimmed by a podiatrist.

If you or someone you know has a diabetic foot ulcer or is concerned about getting one, you should speak to your health care provider.

Kellyn Jackson, RN, BSN, is director of the Center for Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine at WVU Medicine Berkeley Medical Center. Please call 304-264-1314 for more information or an appointment.

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