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01st May 2023

Diabetic Foot Ulcers: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Dr. Jill Barat, PharmD
Diabetic Foot Ulcers: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Diabetic foot ulcers are a common condition that develops in those that have diabetes.

And, while a little wound on your foot may not seem like a big deal, if foot ulcers are not properly treated they can progress in the worst situations to foot amputations.

It has been found that diabetic foot ulcers occurred prior to amputation in 85% of all amputations performed on diabetic patients.

So, while 60-80% of all diabetic foot ulcers will eventually heal, you will need to be vigilant and give the wound proper care to avoid a more severe situation.

In this article, we will lay out the basics of diabetic foot ulcers, including causes, symptoms, general treatments, and prevention to keep those feet in fighting shape.

What causes Diabetic foot ulcers?

Just what about having diabetes puts you at risk to develop wounds on your feet?

For some, the connection between a pancreas disease and your feet is not entirely obvious.

Ultimately, it comes down to poor circulation, having extra sugar in your bloodstream, and longer healing times.

With your feet being one of the most distant parts of your body for your blood to reach, if the blood is not getting to your extremities properly to carry oxygen and nutrients you are at risk for problems.

Additionally, with the blood carrying more sugar than in people who do not have diabetes, if there is a wound on the foot, it is constantly being fed extra sugar molecules, causing a worsened bacterial infection.

Often, the exact causes of diabetic foot ulcers are a blend of one or more of the potential causes below.

Causes of Diabetic Foot Ulcers:

  • High blood sugar (uncontrolled or untreated diabetes)

  • Poor circulation to the feet

  • Nerve damage (neuropathy)

  • Foot irritation

  • Foot injuries

What are the risk factors for Diabetic foot ulcers?

Just having diabetes does not mean that you will definitely get a foot ulcer, although having the disease does put you at a much higher risk for diabetic foot ulcers and other foot and circulation issues.

The factors that put someone at a higher risk for foot ulcers include:

  • Diabetic neuropathy

  • Peripheral arterial disease

  • Many injuries to the feet

  • Poorly fitting shoes

  • Improper washing

  • Drinking alcohol

  • Diabetes-related eye diseases

  • Improper toenail trimming

  • Tobacco use

  • Kidney disease

  • Heart disease

  • Obesity

In general, the better your diabetes is controlled, the better your overall health will be, including your foot health.

What are the symptoms of a Diabetic foot ulcer?

The most common symptoms of having a diabetic foot ulcer include:

  • Redness, warmth, or swelling on the sole of your foot
  • Discharge from your foot
  • A foul-smelling odor coming from your feet
  • Pain and firmness when touching the wound area
  • Thick or calloused skin surrounding the ulcer
  • Fever and chills (in later stages)

It should be noted, that due to nerve damage (neuropathy) in the foot area, sometimes little to no pain is able to be felt from these foot wounds, even if they are severe.

How are Diabetic foot ulcers treated?

The way that a diabetic foot ulcer is treated depends on how severe the ulcer is, if it is infected, and your overall health.

The potential treatment options for diabetic foot ulcers may include one or many of the following:

  • Staying off your feet for a time period
  • Topical wound dressings
  • Daily cleaning regimens
  • Wearing protective foot items: wraps, braces, shoe inserts
  • Debridement of the wound at the doctor’s office (removal of dead skin and infected tissue)
  • Prescription antibiotic medications
  • Surgery (in more extreme cases)

How can you help prevent Diabetic foot ulcers?

The best way to prevent diabetic foot ulcers is to keep your diabetes under control.

Also, having regular foot check-ups with a podiatrist will help your doctors identify the beginnings of foot ulcers to catch them before they progress to a more extreme state.

It is recommended that all diabetics have a foot exam at least once a year.

Ways to help prevent diabetic foot ulcers include:

  • Properly washing your feet daily
  • Trimming your toenails properly and straight across
  • Moisturizing your feet to prevent dry, cracked skin
  • Wearing clean socks every day
  • Having corns and calluses professionally removed
  • Wearing comfortable and properly fitting shoes

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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.