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Diabetic Foot Ulcers: What Are They?

What are diabetic foot ulcers and who do they affect? These are serious foot wounds; they can impact patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. In fact, about one-third of patients with diabetes end up developing an ulcer. Among those individuals, half will develop infections in their ulcers. And once a patient has an infected ulcer, they will face amputation in about 20% of cases, according to the JAMA network journal. Clearly, if you have diabetes, ulcers are a serious threat to your health and limbs. So, to prevent complications, let’s explore how and why they form. Then, together, we’ll learn how to prevent and treat ulcers to avoid amputations.

Why Do Diabetic Foot Ulcers Form? woman holding foot

When you have diabetes, you’re more likely to develop neuropathy, or damage in your peripheral nerves. As a result, you may lose some sensation in your feet. And that means you may not notice if you cut your foot, or even if a sharp object punctures your skin. If that happens, a wound may form and go unnoticed, leading to a breakdown of skin and ulcer formation.

But neuropathy isn’t the only risk factor for ulcers.  You see, with neuropathy, your skin may also become dry. And, with diabetes, the shape of your foot may change. Together, these factors increase your risk for calluses that, over time, can break down and form an ulcer.

Finally, diabetes also increases your risk for peripheral artery disease, a condition in which limited blood flow reaches your legs and feet. As a result, your body’s healing ability is compromised in your extremities. So, if you do form a wound, it will take longer to heal, increasing your risk for infection and amputation.

Diagnosing and Treating Diabetic Foot Ulcers

As soon as you notice a wound on your foot, you must come into the office right away. Once we examine your wound, we can determine its depth and size. We’ll also look for any signs of infection. If there’s a concern that infection has set in, we may order an x-ray or MRI to make sure that the infection hasn’t spread to your bones.

Once we know the extent of your ulcer, we can develop a personalized treatment plan. We may need to debride your wound (remove infected or dead tissue) then apply antibiotics and dress the area. In some cases, we may need to take pressure off the ulcer so it can heal. (This is called offloading.) And we can do so with special boots that let you walk while you heal. Now, offloading on its own has proved to be very effective. But, according to this study, when you add an additional treatment product to the ulcer protocol while offloading, you can see complete healing in just 12 weeks!

So, that’s how we can help heal your ulcers. But we may also recommend PAD screening while helping you manage your circulation, since this can also help the healing process. (And your overall health.) Luckily, with early intervention and appropriate treatment, close to 40% of ulcers will heal within three months.

Preventing Ulcers with Diabetic Foot Care

Our podiatrists in Spring and Tomball Tx emphasize diabetic foot care to prevent ulcer formation. If you have diabetes, you should check your feet every day, looking for any physical changes that could become problematic. Additionally, you should schedule an in-office, comprehensive foot exam every 1 to 3 months, especially if you’ve had an ulcer in the past. For some patients, diabetic shoes can help keep pressure off your feet and prevent problems. And, for all patients, contacting our office at the first sign of foot problems will go a long way toward preventing serious complications.