Diabetes Awareness Month: Diabetes, Foot Ulcers, and Wound Care

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month.

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month – a great time to focus on diabetes, as well as a serious health concern facing diabetics: foot ulcers and wound care.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition in which the body does not properly process food for use as energy.  Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose, or sugar, for our bodies to use as fuel.  The pancreas makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose get into the cells of our bodies.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or it can’t use its own insulin as well as it should.  This causes sugars to build up in your blood.

Diabetes can cause serious health complications including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, foot ulcers, and lower-extremity amputations.

Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.  An estimated 30.3 million people in the U.S. (9.4 percent of the population) live with diabetes.  The percentage of adults with diabetes increases with age, reaching a high of 25.2 percent among people 65 or older.  But it’s not just the aging population that gets diabetes.  Risk factors include diet, activity level, obesity, and heredity at any age.

Foot Ulcers

Approximately a quarter of people living with diabetes will develop a foot ulcer or open sore. Patients with diabetes should have their feet examined regularly by a physician.

Approximately a quarter of people living with diabetes will develop a foot ulcer or open sore.  In addition, up to four in 10 people with a healed diabetic foot ulcer will develop a new ulcer within a year, so it’s a recurring problem for many diabetics.  These wounds must be taken very seriously as an estimated 14-24 percent of people with foot ulcers will experience an amputation.  In addition to lowering overall quality of life, losing a foot has other serious consequences.  Amputees face higher medical costs and a higher risk of death, as half of all people who have a lower extremity amputation do not survive past five years.  Many amputations can be avoided with regular foot care and proper footwear.

Foot problems can happen as a result of nerve damage, or neuropathy.  This can cause tingling, pain or weakness in the foot.  It can also cause loss of feeling in the foot, contributing to unrecognized injuries.  According to the American Diabetes Association, poor blood flow or changes in the shape of your feet or toes may also cause problems.

Living with chronic, non-healing wounds can be frustrating, debilitating and time-consuming for the patient.  Foot ulcers can be a challenge to care for and heal.  High blood sugar levels, poor circulation, immune system issues, nerve damage and infections can all contribute to a non-healing diabetic foot ulcer.

The CMHS Center for Wound Healing & Hyperbaric Medicine

Community Memorial Health System (CMHS) offers expert care to help improve wound healing at the Center for Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine, where the physicians and staff are trained in the specialized, comprehensive care of problem wounds using state-of-the-art technology and techniques.  The medical care team is comprised of specialized physicians with advanced wound care training, nurses trained to care for chronic wounds, and experienced technicians and other staff.

“We are committed to improving the lives of our patients through individualized patient care techniques and the latest research-based scientific treatment modalities of wound care,” said Dr. James Mitchell, Medical Director of the CMHS Center for Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine.  “We have been highly successful at reversing difficult to treat wounds and salvaging countless limbs which would otherwise have been lost to complications from diabetes and other conditions.”

“Each patient brings with them their own healthcare challenges which affect how they respond to the care and treatment of their wound,” continued Dr. Mitchell.  “As such, every patient’s treatment plan is tailored and individualized to their specific condition to maximize their wound healing.”

Patients of the Center for Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine will undergo a diagnostic exam to identify their type of wound and its underlying causes.  A treatment program is then developed and may include:

  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy
  • Vascular evaluation
  • Total patient metabolic evaluation
  • Diabetic education
  • Obesity and smoking education and counseling
  • Laboratory evaluation
  • Infectious disease management
  • Radiology CT and MRI evaluation
  • Physical therapy
  • Nutrition management
  • Advanced wound care with bioengineered tissue

To help difficult wounds heal, a patient may be referred for hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a simple but effective treatment in which the patient breathes pure oxygen inside a pressurized chamber.  The chamber has clear sides so the patient can see their surroundings, and it’s in a comfortable treatment room equipped with a television and videos.  The therapy quickly and safely delivers high concentrations of oxygen to the bloodstream, which helps increase the body’s own natural wound-healing capabilities.

Preventative Measures

Patients with diabetes are encouraged to make their health a priority and learn as much as possible about preventing foot sores and ulcers.

Patients with diabetes are encouraged to take the best possible care of their health and learn how they can lower their risk for limb loss.  CMHS recommends following six measures to help prevent diabetic foot ulcers:

  1. Stop smoking immediately!  If you are having a hard time quitting, talk to your doctor about what support programs might be available to you.
  2. Get a comprehensive foot examination each time you visit your healthcare provider, or at least four times per year.
  3. Inspect your feet for ulcers or wounds every day or have a family member inspect them.
  4. Take care of your feet.  This includes cleaning toenails and taking care of calluses.  Calluses occur more often and build up faster on the feet of people with diabetes.  Calluses, if not trimmed, get very thick, break down, and turn into ulcers.  Never try to cut calluses yourself – let a healthcare provider assist you.  Chemical callus removing agents should also be avoided.  Using a pumice stone on wet skin every day will help keep calluses under control.  Apply lotion immediately after using the pumice stone.
  5. Wear supportive shoes and socks or therapeutic shoes if necessary.
  6. Take steps to improve your circulation by eating healthier and exercising on a regular basis.

CLICK HERE to learn more about how to reduce your risk of developing diabetes from the American Diabetes Association.

If you are a patient who may be experiencing a chronic non-healing wound, please call the Center for Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine for a consultation and referral instructions.