Diabetic Foot Ulcers: Bedside Wound Care
Get the Facts on Foot Ulcers
Some people with certain chronic health conditions are at a greater risk of developing an ulcer on the foot. Here's how to stay one step ahead of foot ulcers.
By Regina Boyle Wheeler
Medically Reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD
Don't Miss This
Sign Up for OurHealthy LivingNewsletter
Thanks for signing up!You might also like these other newsletters:
Foot ulcers are sores on the feet that can involve just the skin’s surface or can develop into more serious wounds, possibly leading to the loss of a limb. People with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, are particularly susceptible to foot ulcers. In fact, about 15 percent of all people with diabetes will develop a foot ulcer at some point in their lives. Practicing good foot care can put the brakes on foot ulcers before they start.
9 Warning Signs of Type 2 Diabetes
Tracey Vlahovic, DPM, associate professor at the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine in Philadelphia, says that leg and foot ulcers can be a problem for people with nerve damage due to alcoholism, those with vascular (vein) issues, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and sickle cell anemia, among other conditions. However, diabetes is the No. 1 culprit, she adds.
Those with diabetes are more susceptible to developing an ulcer on the foot because of reasons including:
Peripheral neuropathy.This is a common complication of diabetes, especially in people who have had the disease for years. Peripheral neuropathy is damage to nerves that numbs the extremities to pain, heat, and cold. If your foot gets injured, that nerve damage may prevent you from feeling it. Walking on a wounded or irritated foot day after day causes a foot ulcer to form.
Peripheral neuropathy can also cause the feet to change shape. Trying to fit deformed feet into regular shoes can cause blisters and calluses, which can develop into ulcers.
Poor circulation.People with diabetes can have poor blood flow to the legs and feet; this can interfere with the body’s ability to fight infection and heal itself.
What Does a Foot Ulcer Look Like?
An ulcer on the foot looks like a red sore, most commonly found on the ball of the foot or under the big toe. If the sore gets infected, you will see pus and smell a bad odor. Untreated foot ulcers can develop gangrene and lead to an amputation. To avoid this, Dr. Vlahovic says that if you discover an ulcer, you need to go to your primary care doctor right away. Your physician may start treatment or refer you to a wound care specialist or podiatrist (foot doctor) to diagnose what stage the ulcer is in, if there’s an infection, and how deep the wound goes.
Treatment for Foot Ulcers
Your treatment for foot ulcers will depend on the severity of your wound. Here are some typical steps your medical team may take to heal your foot ulcer:
10 Tips for Healthy Feet
- Cleansing and debridement:The ulcer on the foot is cleaned and any dead or dying tissue is removed. A cream that promotes healing may be applied and the wound is dressed.
- Off-loading:Your doctor will come up with a way to keep pressure off the foot ulcer so it has a better chance of healing. Your foot may be placed in a cast or a special boot. Stay off your feet as much as possible.
- Wound assessment:Your medical team will look at the foot ulcer, usually once or twice a week, until it’s healed. A visiting nurse may come by to change the dressings.
Vlahovic says if it appears the ulcer is infected, a culture will be taken; sometimes the foot is X-rayed to see if the infection has spread to the bone. Medication to kill the infection will be prescribed.
Skin grafts or substitute skin can be used as a treatment for foot ulcers. Vacuum-assisted closure or hyperbaric oxygen therapy may help heal more severe wounds or those that are healing too slowly.
Foot Ulcer Prevention Tips
The best way to prevent an ulcer on the foot from forming in the first place is to treat the underlying health problem. In diabetes, keeping blood sugar at normal levels will help prevent some of the complications that can lead to foot ulcers.
Here’s what else you can do to keep a step ahead of foot ulcers:
- Be an inspector.If you have diabetes, examine your feet every day for any cuts, blisters, or calluses. Holding a mirror up to the soles of your feet will make this easier. If this is still difficult, ask someone to check your feet for you. If you find any problems, call your doctor. Body Wash, Shower Gel, Soap: Which Is Best?
- Keep your tootsies clean.Wash your feet every day in warm water. Then dry them well, especially between the toes.
- Soften your feet.Put a thin layer of lotion on the tops and bottoms of your feet. Dry skin can crack and peel, inviting in germs. But don’t put lotion between your toes; the moisture can lead to an infection.
- Trim your nails.Cut toenails straight across and smooth them with an emery board or file. If you can’t reach or see your toes, or if you have thickened, yellow nails, have a podiatrist do this for you.
- Don’t go barefoot.Always wear socks and shoes to avoid stepping on something and hurting your feet. Make sure your shoes fit perfectly to avoid blisters. Ask your doctor about whether you should get diabetic shoes.
- Work out.Exercise improves circulation, which is essential to fight infection.
- Stop smoking.Lighting up decreases blood flow to your feet.
Video: Characteristics of Arterial Ulcers
Potential Underlying Causes of Weight Gain
How do you file a claim after a fire
How to Use Switchwords to Clear Negative Thoughts
How to Feed Your Bunny Vitamins
How to Make a Girl Jealous
How to Write a Cheesy Rap Song
How to Plan a Homework Schedule
4 Ways To Use Hair Oil (Without The GreasyResidue)
How to Use Glass Paints
6 Different Eyeliner Styles for Amazing Makeovers Video