Did you know diabetes is the cause of more than 200 amputations every day in America?
And nearly 85% of all amputations come from a seemingly benign source: foot ulcers.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your diabetic foot ulcer will heal on its own. Even a minor injury can quickly morph into a chronic infection if you have diabetes. Unfortunately, diabetic wounds can be tricky to identify and very difficult to reverse due to the effects of high blood sugar on the body’s natural healing processes.
If you’re diabetic, make sure you understand how to identify and treat diabetic foot ulcers before the consequences are too severe to reverse.
What Is a Diabetic Foot Ulcer?
A diabetic foot ulcer begins just like any normal wound. It might be a cut, scrape, blister, or other minor injury. Unlike normal wounds that heal naturally over a few days, diabetic foot ulcers fail to heal properly. This is due to the slow blood circulation and nerve damage associated with diabetes. Instead of healing, infection forms in the wound and spreads into deeper layers of skin. As a result, diabetic ulcers often lead to abscesses, bone infections, and other severe consequences.
Why Are Foot Ulcers So Common for People With Diabetes?
People with diabetes are so prone to foot ulcers because of the damaging effects of high blood sugar on the body. When blood glucose levels remain raised over long periods of time, it does more than cause weight gain and heart troubles. It compromises your body’s entire injury response system.
A Healthy Wound-Healing Process
Any break or opening in the skin can be considered a wound, even if it doesn’t cause pain. Since your skin protects underlying tissue from the bacteria that cause infections, any wound can give pathogens the opportunity to sneak in and trigger infection.
A body unaffected by diabetes can effectively combat the threat of infection with the natural healing process that begins within minutes of any injury. Blood flows and eventually clots to form a scab, which serves the valuable purpose of protecting underlying tissues from bacteria.
The immune system continues to fight off infection by opening nearby blood vessels to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the wound. This makes it possible for powerful white blood cells to prevent infection, combat germs, and support the wound as it heals.
The Diabetic Healing Process
Diabetes interrupts the body’s healing process by restricting its efficiency and slowing its speed. Chronically high blood sugar levels act like a stranglehold to white blood cells and impair their function. Without white blood cells to fight away bacteria, infection can effortlessly take root and spread throughout any wound.
Diabetes is also correlated with poor circulation, which exacerbates an already compromised wound-healing process. Consistently strong circulation is essential to help red blood cells deliver nutrients to the wound. Without strong circulation, diabetic patients become even more vulnerable to infections and ulcers.
Of course, diabetes also causes overwhelming nerve damage. This means that you might not be able to feel or sense the infected, slow-healing wound on your body, even as it causes you significant harm. Since the feet endure so much pressure on a regular basis and often remain trapped in dark, moist shoes and socks, they’re the first place where diabetic ulcers develop.
Common Diabetic Foot Ulcer Symptoms
Wounds can develop anywhere on the body, but diabetics are most vulnerable to cuts, scrapes, and sores on their feet. In fact, diabetic foot injuries are the most common cause of hospitalization among diabetic patients. It’s critical for every diabetic to learn how to identify foot ulcers in order to stop the cycle of injury before it requires an amputation.
Do You Have a Diabetic Foot Ulcer?
Your nerve damage and poor circulation may reduce your ability to sense an injury on your foot. The very best way to identify the presence of a diabetic foot ulcer is to perform a visual inspection every day, especially along your heel, the bottom of your big toe, and the ball of your foot.
If you notice any of the following signs, seek medical care immediately:
- Drainage from your foot is staining your socks or leaking from your shoe
- Unusual swelling
- Irritation and redness
- Foul odor from one or both feet
- Black tissue surrounding a wound on the foot
- Extensive callus on base of foot around wound
Responding to the symptoms of a foot ulcer immediately can make the difference between a long, expensive hospital stay and a relatively easy recovery.
The Best Diabetic Foot Ulcer Treatments
There’s no way to ignore a diabetic foot ulcer until it goes away. The infection caused by your foot ulcer will spread into surrounding tissues and bones, ultimately causing an amputation if not treated.
Assess Wound With a Full Exam
The best treatments begin with a comprehensive exam like the full evaluations performed on diabetic foot ulcer patients at R3 Wound Care.
This begins with a process called debridement, which involves removing all dead skin from the feet. Many foot ulcers hide under callused skin, so only debridement can expose the real wounds and help your doctor evaluate the extent of your injuries.
If your circulation is especially poor, your doctor may wait to perform debridement until a vascular physician is able to identify the source of poor circulation, such as a major clogging of the blood vessels, and perform the treatment or surgery necessary to boost circulation again.
Whether debridement occurs first or second in this process, it creates clean edges around the diabetic foot ulcer and encourages healthy tissue to grow.
Proper Dressing, Infection Control, and Offloading
It’s essential to use the proper types of wound dressing, infection control, and offloading to prevent your diabetic wound from regressing during or after treatment.
The best wound dressing maintains a healthy amount of moisture on the foot to create a favorable environment for the wound. It must be changed at least once or twice per day, depending on the stage and severity of the ulcer. Wound dressing helps control infection, as do antibiotics.
Offloading is also a very important but often overlooked component of diabetic foot ulcer treatment. When you offload, you remove pressure from your injured foot and give new, healthy cells the opportunity to thrive. Crushes, knee scooters, and wheelchairs all accomplish offloading.
Hyperbaric Wound Care
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is also a central part of successful diabetic foot ulcer treatment. HBOT uses pure pressurized oxygen to replace depleted levels in the body. Since oxygen plays such a vital role in wound healing, HBOT supports ongoing repair in previously non-healing wounds.
How Does HBOT Help Your Diabetic Wounds Heal?
Oxygen can only make its way through the blood within red blood cells. Since the circulation problems associated with diabetes slow the movement of red blood cells, important tissues become deprived of oxygen.
Without enough oxygen, cells struggle to produce the energy they need to block bacteria, synthesize new collagen, or regenerate and repair after injury. This is why diabetic wound healing slows until it comes to a full stop. Inhaling the concentrated flow of oxygen provided through regular HBOT treatments makes it possible to overcome oxygen deficiencies and stimulate a more effective healing process.
Overall, HBOT helps your diabetic wounds heal faster. It recruits white blood cells by providing the oxygen they need to effectively kill bacteria, reduce swelling, and allow the rapid reproduction of new blood vessels. When you commit to weekly treatments in an ongoing protocol, HBOT revitalizes the body’s healing process and renews tissues you thought may never recover.
The Bottom Line: Choose a Wound Healing and HBOT Specialist Near You
R3 Wound Care and Hyperbarics opened its first location in San Antonio to answer the community’s growing need for high-quality outpatient wound care services. Not just standard wound care, but care provided in a comfortable, refreshing, and attractive environment.
Now R3 Wound Care is located at five convenient locations throughout Texas to provide the advanced wound care and hyperbaric oxygen therapy that was previously only available at large medical institutions. R3 acts on its mission to make wound healing as pleasant and successful as possible.
When you trust your diabetic foot ulcer treatment to the professionals at R3, you’ll benefit from R3’s private setting with the latest hyperbaric technology. Every HBOT treatment occurs in a clear acrylic chamber where you relax, recline, and enjoy a good book or movie for a few hours. You can hear and speak throughout your treatment, and the entire process is painless.
Visit the R3 location closest to you today to learn more about this natural alternative healing treatment and its potential to save your limb — or your life!
Dr. Hina Rizvi specializes in advanced wound management and hyperbaric medicine. She is a board-certified Wound Specialist by the American Board of Wound Management and a member of the American College of Hyperbaric Medicine.