Diabetic ulcers are open sores that typically form on the feet and legs, but also on hands and the folds of the stomach. They occur in diabetics because high blood sugar can damage nerves and blood vessels, which lessen blood flow and make it more difficult for sores to heal. In diabetics with peripheral arterial disease, ulcers are very common, because the disease lessens blood flow to the legs and feet.
Ulcers are dangerous because they can affect the bones, become infected and even lead to further complications like gangrene, which can only be treated with amputation.
The good news is that proper care can help prevent ulcers and treat them when they form.
As always, prevention of complications from diabetes starts with managing and monitoring your blood sugar. Make sure you're taking all your medications and working on your diet and exercise plan to keep your blood sugar in check. See your doctor regularly to make sure you're on the right track.
Keep your skin, and especially your feet, clean and moisturized, but dry. It's also important to check your skin every day for blisters, drainage, cuts, cracks, sores, redness, white spots or calluses, discoloration or other changes. Remember that ulcers can form quickly and are not always obvious. Pay special attention to your feet, as they are the extremity most often ignored and the one where nerve damage may occur, making it more difficult to feel skin issues.
Ulcers are most likely to form on the ball of the foot or the bottom of the big toe, so check these daily or have a family member help you check.
It's a good idea to keep shoes and/or socks on your feet at all times to prevent sores from forming. This is a great way to protect your feet. Remember that Total Diabetes Supply offers a full line of foot care items for this purpose.
Treatments for ulcers vary according to their severity. In most cases, your doctor will first perform a debridement, which removes the dead skin, foreign objects or infects that caused the ulcer. Other treatments may include:
- Off-loading, or staying off the feet, if that's where the ulcers are, to alleviate pressure on them. Diabetic shoes, socks and compression wraps may also help with this.
- Medications, like antibiotics, topical solutions applied directly to the ulcer, antiplatelets or anti-clotting drugs may be prescribed for you.
- Surgery. In some cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove bunions and other deformities or shave down the bone to alleviate pressure on the foot.
As mentioned, ulcers can be dangerous because they can become infected and affect the bones. To prevent infection:
- Clean your ulcer daily. Use soap and water, unless your doctor recommends another cleanser. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or soak in a whirlpool, as this may slow healing.
- Dress or bandage your ulcer daily. Make sure you keep it covered up to prevent infection, and change the dressing daily to keep it dry.