Top 5 Causes of Non-Healing Diabetic Foot Ulcers (And How to Prevent Them)

Man tying his shoes.

If you have diabetes, your blood sugar levels are higher than normal. Over time, this can cause complications with other bodily functions, especially within the feet. In fact, diabetic foot ulcers, open wounds that occur in approximately 15 percent of diabetics, are the leading cause of non-traumatic lower extremity amputations in the United States. Read on to learn the top five causes of non-healing diabetic foot ulcers, as well as important information on how to prevent complications before they occur.

1. High Blood Sugar Levels

Diabetes is a metabolic disease that causes elevated levels of glucose in the blood. Elevated blood glucose levels stiffen the body’s arteries and narrow its blood vessels, restricting the delivery of the blood and oxygen needed to support the body’s natural healing abilities.

2. Poor Circulation

Individuals with diabetes are at an increased risk for peripheral arterial disease (PAD), a condition that restricts blood flow to the feet and legs. PAD is especially problematic for those with chronic wounds, particularly diabetic foot ulcers, because it can seriously inhibit the body’s ability to heal. If left untreated, PAD can lead to amputation of the affected limb.

3. Nerve Damage

Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to nerve damage in people with diabetes. Diabetic neuropathies are a family of nerve disease that causes a loss of sensation, including the ability to feel pain. For those with nerve damage, a small cut, blister or surgical wound on the foot can go unnoticed and untreated, leading to infection and interference with diabetic foot ulcer recovery.

4. Immune System Issues

One of the roles the body’s immune system is to clear away dead, damaged tissue and build new skin cells once a wound or injury has occurred. Diabetes can slow a person’s immune system, which affects the body’s ability to send white blood cells to fight bacteria in an infected diabetic foot ulcer.

5. Infection

Because diabetics tend to have weaker immune systems, their bodies are more susceptible to infection. Particularly in those with diabetes, it’s common for a wound to develop an infection like non-healing diabetic foot ulcers.

Tips for Diabetic Foot Ulcer Prevention

The best strategy to avoid diabetic foot ulcers is to prevent wounds in the first place. The CDC reports that almost half of non-traumatic loss of toes, feet or legs can be prevented with daily foot care.

Inspect your feet daily.

The CDC recommends people with diabetes inspect their feet every day for cuts, blisters, calluses, red spots, swelling and other abnormalities. Regularly trim toenails straight across to avoid ingrown toenails. If you cannot see or reach your feet, use a mirror or ask for the assistance of a doctor, family member or caregiver. In addition to daily examination, have your doctor or podiatrist check your feet at least once per year.

Protect your feet from infection.

Washing your feet each day is an important part of your diabetic foot care routine. Wash feet in lukewarm water (not hot water, which can scald and blister feet), and dry feet thoroughly afterward. Once dry, rub moisturizing lotion or cream on the tops and bottoms of feet. Do not apply lotion between toes, as this could foster bacterial growth. Don’t forget to put on socks and shoes, even if you are just staying in your home, to avoid stepping on something sharp and becoming injured.

Manage your diabetes.

Keeping your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check can prevent most of the complications related to diabetes, including non-healing diabetic foot ulcers. Work with your primary care physician to develop a diabetes self-management plan that may include healthy diet, regular exercise, blood sugar monitoring, smoking cessation and adherence to medication as directed.

Our final bit of advice:

Never take chances when it comes to diabetic foot ulcers and other diabetes-related wounds. If you see signs of infection, schedule a consultation with the wound specialists at UnityPoint Clinic – Wound Care & Hyperbaric Medicine. The faster you receive healing, the less chance of an infection.

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