Why Are People with Diabetes at Risk for Foot Ulcers?
January 9, 2019
If you have diabetes, you’ve surely heard of how important it is to avoid foot ulcers. These pesky wounds can wreak a lot of havoc if they aren’t treated properly.
Unfortunately, the many side effects of diabetes make foot ulcers a very common complication. The good news is, knowing what to look for will give you a much better chance of preventing them.
In this post, we’ll outline the most common causes of diabetic foot ulcers, the symptoms to look for, and how to prevent ulcers in the first place. By the time you finish reading, you’ll have a much better idea of how to spot foot ulcers and what to do to avoid them.
What Causes Foot Ulcers?
The formation of foot ulcers is often a direct result of other complications of diabetes. While many of these complications may seem manageable individually, they can seem much more serious when they surface as a foot ulcer. The causes of diabetic foot ulcers range from poor circulation to untreated wounds or scrapes on the feet to poorly managed blood sugar.
If you have diabetes, you might experience poor blood circulation, especially you're not managing your blood sugar levels. Low circulation can result in Ischemic foot ulcers (also called arterial ulcers). These ulcers occur when a wound on the foot can’t receive enough healthy blood flow to heal properly. Wearing shoes that fit too tight can also reduce blood flow and lead to these kinds of ulcers.
Nerve damage (also known as peripheral neuropathy) is one of the main causes of foot ulcers. The longer you live with diabetes (and the older you get) the more likely you are to experience neuropathy. This type of nerve damage in your feet can keep you from noticing wounds or sores that develop, as you can't feel them if your nerves are damaged. These injuries may then develop into ulcers when left untreated for too long. This type of ulcer is often referred to as a neuropathic ulcer, since neuropathy is the main cause.
Continuing to walk on a wound or sore makes it harder for it to heal and increases the chances that it will turn into an ulcer. This is why it’s so important to check your feet daily for signs of injury, especially if you have diabetic neuropathy.
Diabetic Foot Ulcer Symptoms
The early you spot the signs of a foot ulcer, the best chance you have of preventing it from becoming a serious injury. With that in mind, here are the most common foot ulcer symptoms to look for:
- Swelling or irritation of the skin
- Skin that is extra warm to the touch
- Redness or skin discoloration
- Odor coming from your feet
- Signs of black tissue (this could indicate infection or even gangrene)
Ulcers in early stages may have few or no symptoms, which makes them hard to notice. This is why it is so important to check your feet every day to catch signs of injury.
If you’re not sure what to look for based on this description, go ahead and Google “diabetic foot ulcer pictures.” You should always speak to a doctor if you’re concerned about signs of a foot ulcer, but an image search may help you better understand what to look for.
Foot Ulcer Treatment
The treatment for foot ulcers varies depending on the severity of the wound. Staying off your feet is one of the best ways to help ulcers heal, since putting pressure on them over and over keeps them from healing properly. However, if your ulcer is advanced, you might need medication or another form of treatment from your doctor.
A necrotic ulcer can be treated by a process called debridement. Debridement means removing the dead tissue and skin so that blood can flow to a wound and help it heal.
How to Prevent Foot Ulcers
While foot ulcers are treatable, it’s best to prevent them altogether if possible.
Wearing shoes that are specifically made for people diabetes is a good way to prevent or relieve ulcers. These shoes are often wider and offer more cushioning than a standard shoe.
Another way to ward off ulcers is with regular exercise. Exercising keeps healthy blood flowing throughout your body, especially in your extremities such as your feet. This will lower your chances of developing neuropathy and other diabetes-related complications.
Finally, the most powerful way to prevent ulcers is to keep your blood sugar within healthy levels.
Disclaimer: Foot ulcer symptoms may vary from individual to individual. Please consult with your doctor before pursuing any type of treatment.