If you have diabetes, you already know how important protecting and taking care of your feet can be. This common disease is a double whammy for lower limbs—a reduction in nerve sensation, known as peripheral or diabetic neuropathy, may take away your ability to detect foot injuries when they occur, while a reduction in blood flow handicaps your body’s ability to heal itself naturally.
Ulcers or wounds, usually on the soles of the feet, occur in about 15 percent of patients struggling with diabetes. No matter how small or insignificant your injury seems, you should never ignore it: seek professional wound care treatment immediately.
Sizing up the Symptoms
If your nerves are still in good shape you may experience some degree of pain; however, since many who develop diabetic wounds also suffer from neuropathy, even very serious injuries or wounds may be completely painless. More commonly, the first sign you detect will be drainage on your socks, redness, swelling, or odor.
Ranking the Risk Factors
Anyone with diabetes, an autoimmune condition, or a cardiovascular problem is at risk of developing a wound, but staying fit, protecting your feet, and engaging in regular diabetic foot checks will greatly improve your odds.
The more severe your symptoms—especially nerve damage—the more likely you are to miss a problem and face an infection. Obesity, alcohol or tobacco abuse, and foot deformities such as bunions or hammertoes also increase your risk.
Why Do I Need to See an Expert?
Bottom line, the potential complications of an untreated wound are extremely serious, even grave. What may look like a minor cut can quickly get infected and grow into a larger wound, and ultimately require hospitalization and/or amputation. In fact, perhaps 1 in 5 patients with diabetes who develop an ulcer may be faced with an amputation at some point.
The saddest thing about diabetic amputations is that, in the vast majority of cases, the problem is preventable with proper wound care. If you practice a good foot care plan and seek immediate treatment when wounds occur, you drastically reduce the odds that you’ll have to lose a toe (or a foot, or a leg) and become a statistic.
Your first step should always be to seek help—call a specialist and set up an appointment as quickly as possible. In the meantime, promote healing and decrease your chance of infection by rinsing the wound with clean water (no soap, iodine, hydrogen peroxide, etc.) to remove any dirt and foreign objects, then apply antibiotic ointment and cover with a sterile bandage.
What We Can Do
Professional treatment will depend on the status of the ulcer itself, but the goal is to deal with any infection immediately, and promote healing as quickly as possible to prevent re-infection. In most cases, we’ll remove any dead tissues from the area, a process known as debridement. After that, we apply medication to the affected area and dress it using a sterile bandage. If the wound is already infected, extra steps will be required—some of which may require hospitalization.
In order for healing to be successful, you’ll need to follow some instructions for home care, too. Stay off your feet as much as possible to minimize painful pressure on the injury. Depending on your condition we may provide you with crutches, a walking boot, a cast, or a wheelchair. We will also provide instructions for daily maintenance to help you cleanse the wound and reapply dressings.
Surgery is usually not necessary, but may become an option if the wound is severe or if previous methods have failed. If we think you need surgical care, we’ll explain the options that may be appropriate for your specific circumstances. Healing time after surgery varies considerably and will depend on the severity of the original injury, the status of other diabetes symptoms, and your diligence with home care.
If you are diabetic and notice problems with your feet, don’t take the risk—call Gulf South Foot & Ankle right away. Our experienced staff serves the Greater New Orleans Region with the highest quality diabetic wound care. You can set up an appointment online or call us at (504)-708-4810.