Diabetes is an autoimmune disease that affects an alarming - and increasing - number of Americans.
At present, over 29 million of our nation’s citizens are afflicted with this disease, and almost 80 million more have higher-than-normal blood sugar levels (“prediabetes”) and have an elevated risk of outright developing diabetes.
The core problem with diabetes is the damage heightened blood sugar (glucose) levels does to body systems, including the nervous, circulatory, and immune systems. As you will see, this systemic damage plays a major role as we discuss diabetic wound care – one of the valuable services you can receive at Martin Foot and Ankle.
The Threat of a Diabetic Wound
When used in the context of diabetes, the word “wound” can pertain to all manners of issues, including cuts, bruises, blisters, calluses, burns, lumps, and even ingrown toenails.
To make it a bit easier, you can think of a diabetic wound as being any injury, condition, or abnormality you would not expect to find on a healthy, otherwise normal foot.
No matter which of these seemingly minor problems you find, it’s a cause for concern and needs to be evaluated and treated by an experience professional at any of our Pennsylvania offices.
Whereas issues like those are not usually a big concern for otherwise healthy individuals—aside from any pain or potential infection risk—wounds can break down and become dangerous foot ulcers when diabetes is in the picture.
The reason this happens goes back to the damage to those aforementioned body systems.
Problems start when peripheral nerves—the ones that enable you to feel physical sensations—are damaged from excess sugar. Sometimes this nerve damage (neuropathy) causes painful sensations, but it can also cause numbness. Even though one might think not feeling anything is better than being in pain, this isn’t the case at all.
See, when the damage has impaired your nerves’ ability to provide physical sensations, it is entirely possible to sustain a small cut or scrape, have a toenail become ingrown, or experience any other kind of injury or condition without knowing about it.
Given that you aren’t aware of an existing problem, you probably won’t take measures to address it – and this is concerning. The reason for that is because your diabetes-impaired circulatory system is unable to supply an adequate blood flow necessary for the wound to heal in a normal fashion.
If the nerve damage and impaired blood flow isn’t enough, diabetes compromises the immune system, which renders it unable to fight off potential contaminants as it’s supposed to.
Combined, all of those factors contribute to increased risk of gangrene (tissue death).
There is no cure for gangrene—and the odds of one being developed in our lifetime are virtually nonexistent—so they only solution to prevent it from spreading is amputation. As such, it’s extremely difficult to overstate the importance of A) knowing how to prevent diabetic wounds and B) having all issues resolved at the earliest possible opportunity.
At-Home Inspection and Early Intervention are Essential
Inspecting your feet on a daily basis is critical when you are diabetic. Sure, we can provide foot care services when you come see us, but you actually see your feet every day (or at least you’re able to).
Given the importance of catching problems early—and then seeking care as soon as possible—a daily foot inspection needs to be part of your greater diabetic foot care plan.
The best practice for this is to inspect your feet carefully and thoroughly every single day.
To help create a routine, you should conduct your inspection at the same time daily. For many individuals living with diabetes, doing this while getting ready for bed works quite well.
In the event you are unable to see the bottom of your feet, either use a long-handled mirror or ask a loved one to help. Should any cuts, scrapes, blisters, swelling, or other skin and nail issues be observed, contact Martin Foot and Ankle and request the earliest possible appointment.
If you become aware of any signs of infection—redness, fever, etc.—you need immediate medical attention.
How We Can Help
So what do you need to do when you find a diabetic wound? Put simply, you need to come see us as soon as possible. We provide services to protect your feet, including:
- Wound assessment. Our team at Martin Foot and Ankle is trained and skilled at evaluating the situation and determining the nature of your wound. Essentially, this the first step in providing the care you need, one wherein we identify wound progression, infection, and potential healing.
- Tissue debridement. This particular service is a matter of removing necrotic (dead) tissue which can stimulate healing, allow inspection of underlying tissue, reduce pressure, and optimize wound dressing effectiveness (by helping with wound drainage or secretion).
- Infection control. One of the main concerns with diabetic wounds is infection risk. We can determine the appropriate measures necessary for infection control – including oral and topical antibiotics. This also entails ensuring that your wound dressing is not too wet (or too dry, but that tends to play less of a role with regards to infection control).
- Pressure offloading. A key factor for preventing complications from a diabetic wound is reducing or offloading pressure from appropriate areas in the lower limb. This is something we will discuss together at your appointment, so you can understand the importance of wearing the removable medical devices we prescribe.
Even better than coming to see us if you discover a diabetic wound—which you absolutely need to do!—is taking measures and avoiding one from developing in the first place.
Reducing Your Risk of Diabetic Wounds
Perhaps the single-most essential component of diabetic foot care is to manage the disease.
Monitor your blood glucose levels and keep them in a normal range. Remember, excess sugar is like poison to your body’s systems when you have diabetes (and should be limited to a sensible amount even for those who aren’t diabetic).
In addition to glucose monitoring and control, you simply must protect your feet. Given that diabetic neuropathy can take away your best tool for knowing when there’s a wound on your feet, you have to keep your feet safe by using measures like:
- Always check your footwear before putting them on. Take a moment before putting on your socks and shoes to ensure there is nothing inside them. If you cannot feel a small object (on account of neuropathy), it could dig into your foot and open the doorway for a dangerous infection.
- Always wear footwear. Okay, you shouldn’t wear socks and shoes in the shower or to bed (so we don’t mean to literally “always” wear footwear), but if you are walking around at home you need to keep your feet protected – instead of walking barefoot. All it takes is stepping on something small or stubbing your toe to lead to a serious medical complication.
- Keep walkways clear. Some paths in the home are more frequently-traveled, like to the kitchen or bathroom. Make sure these pathways have plenty of space on both sides to avoid your risk of stubbing a toe against something.
- Address problems early. Whenever you recognize anything out of the ordinary—something that can happen during your daily foot inspection—contact our office and request the earliest possible appointment. Early intervention is your best hope for preventing an emergency later.
- See us regularly. Set up regularly-scheduled appointments to comes see us every couple of months. This gives us the opportunity to evaluate the health of your feet and identify any potential risk factors that need to be addressed. These visits might be brief—as long as we do not find anything concerning—but they can help save a toe or foot from amputation!
Expert Diabetic Foot Care and Wound Treatment
For more information on preventing diabetic wounds or to request an appointment with any of our five Pennsylvania podiatrist offices, simply give us a call at (717) 757-3537 and a team member will be happy to answer any questions or help set up your visit.
If you’d prefer, you can also contact our practice online right now.