According to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), about 15% of patients with diabetes will suffer from a diabetic foot ulcer. Of those, approximately 14 – 24% will require an amputation (accounting for 85% of all diabetes-related amputations). Here in Massachusetts, that equates to more than 24,500 people. What’s more, diabetic patients who’ve had an amputation have a 68% mortality rate within five years if the wound doesn’t heal and is not properly treated.
The statistics can be startling for those with diabetes and their loved ones. But awareness of how to prevent, recognize and properly treat foot ulcers and other diabetic wounds can make all the difference.
Here’s what you need to know…
An ulcer is an open sore or wound on the skin. Ulcers on the feet are particularly common in those who have diabetes. Complications from the disease – such as poor circulation and loss of feeling (neuropathy) in the feet due to diabetes-related nerve damage – make it more likely for a wound to develop, and also harder to heal.
People with diabetes who use insulin, have diabetes-related kidney, eye or heart disease, or who are overweight, use alcohol or tobacco have an even higher risk of developing foot ulcers.
Normally a wound or sore on the skin would cause pain. But the same loss of feeling in the feet that often contributes to the development of a diabetic foot ulcer means that there’s often no pain associated with the ulcer. This can make it difficult for people to realize that an ulcer is even there in the early stages, when treatment is most effective.
Aside from pain, another sign to look for is discharge or drainage from the wound in the socks. Ulcers that have been present for some time and that have become infected may also cause an unpleasant odor.
The first line of defense in preventing diabetic wounds is to follow the guidelines recommended to keep the disease itself under control:
You should also take measures to avoid causing sores or wounds on the feet:
Because a loss of sensation in the feet may mean there’s no pain felt even when an ulcer is present, it’s also extremely important for those with diabetes to regularly check for any foot sores or skin irritation. This way, the ulcer can be properly treated as early as possible.
If a diabetic foot ulcer does occur, it’s important to seek medical care as soon as possible; this is not a wound you should attempt to treat at home on your own. The faster a foot ulcer is properly treated, the greater chance it will heal completely and without infection or complications.
A diabetic wound care specialist, such as the Wound Care Center at Harrington, can provide the most advanced and comprehensive diabetic wound treatment. Your primary care physician can provide a referral to the wound care center. Our Wound Care Center team will then continue working hand-in-hand with your doctor throughout the wound treatment process.
Our specialized diabetic wound treatment services include:
It’s important to note that not all skin ulcers are caused by diabetes, and that even people who don’t have diabetes can suffer from chronic wounds. Even people without diabetes can be susceptible to vascular ulcers. Vascular ulcers are caused by problems with the vascular system (also known as the circulatory system).
These types of ulcers can happen to people who suffer from veins or arteries that don’t function properly, causing blood flow in the legs to be limited. This can lead to an increased risk of wounds that may not heal normally and can become infected.
The Wound Care Center at Harrington also provides full service care for these types of wounds, including on-site X-rays, MRI and lab work.
To make an appointment at the Harrington Wound Care Center, call (508) 248-8105. You can also learn more on our website here.
© 2021 UMass Memorial Health