A diabetic foot ulcer is quite common – in fact, studies say that 1 out 4 people with diabetes tend to develop at least one ulcer post-diagnosis. Foot ulcers can be serious & life-threatening as they are the leading cause of amputation due to diabetes. Since healing diabetic foot ulcers is not easy, it is important to know more about this injury.
In this post we will discuss diabetic foot ulcers, why do they happen and more
What Are Diabetic Foot Ulcers?
Diabetic foot ulcers normally begin with a foot injury. This injury can come from stepping on a tack, or from a small cut from dry skin or even just a normal blister from a shoe that doesn’t fit correctly. People who don’t have diabetes; these injuries in them would typically heal on their own. But for people with diabetes, this is not always the case.
Why Do Diabetic Ulcers Happen?
Chronic ulcers that are caused by diabetes are mainly due to the following four reasons:
- Diabetes causes both microvascular (small blood vessel) disease & macrovascular (large blood vessel), which compromises of the flow of blood to the legs & feet. As a result, wounds typically don’t get the resources- oxygen, healing cells, and immune boosters they need to heal.
- Blood is essential for the healing process, and high blood sugar in diabetic patients often causes proteins to group & clog the blood vessels. So when blood vessels get clogged, the blood can’t get to the feet (and especially to the toes), and thus, wound healing is compromised.
- Diabetes also impairs the immune system function of the body. It is your immune system that constantly works to protect your body from a variety of bacteria, viruses, and other pathological agents. Once the immune system is impaired & the blood flow is constricted, healing diabetic foot ulcers get very difficult. Here the skin is an important barrier against the infection. Ulcerated skin & a dysfunctional immune system imply that the legs or feet of diabetic patients are at a tremendously high risk of infection. Also, this infection can quickly spread on to the bone, or if left unchecked, throughout the body.
- Diabetes also causes the issue with neuropathy- a condition that diminishes the nerve function. However, the exact mechanism is still not known, but it is thought that the protective sheath which surrounds the nerve fibres is disrupted by hyperglycemia. This leads to demyelination of the motor & sensory nerves. As the sensation starts declining, the patient risks foot injury. You might sustain the trauma or develop an infected wound or cut but might not notice it because it is not painful. Thus, it is very important for you to inspect your feet daily if you have neuropathy.
Are Ulcers Life Threatening?
Ulcers alone are not life-threatening. However, if the ulcer is not treated at the right time, eventually, it can become life-threatening, especially in the following cases:
- Infection– Bacteria can easily get into the body through the ulcer. Any ulcer that persists for more than 30 days is at an increased risk for bacterial infection. Bacteria can lead to a certain serious infection in the tissue which can get into the bloodstream & cause sepsis that is a life-threatening condition. This bacterial infection can also spread, causing a bone infection called osteomyelitis. If this kind of infection is left untreated, it can also lead to sepsis. There are certain kinds of bacteria that can cause necrotizing fasciitis which is a very aggressive infection; it can even lead to death.
- Peripheral-artery-disease – If there is a PAD, then tissue tends to die due to lack of blood flow. If dead tissue, or gangrene, is left untreated, they can get infected and lead to death.
- Amputation – It might seem strange to say that amputation, which is basically a treatment for a foot ulcer, can become life-threatening. This is because a person with diabetes who has had an amputation tend to be at a much higher risk of mortality than a non-amputee.
Therefore, it is important to take a diabetic foot ulcer seriously. Waiting for longer than six weeks to get it treated may mean that it is more likely that it won’t heal. There are better chances of diabetic foot ulcer treatment antibiotics if they’re cared for by a specialized team.
Interesting related article: “How to save money on life insurance if you have diabetes.”