The FDA estimates, as of late 2017, that approximately 30.3 million people in the United States have diagnosed diabetes, and of those, about 25% will experience at least one foot ulcer in their lifetime. That’s over 7 million people, and while the majority of foot ulcers will heal, those that do not could ultimately require amputation.
Diabetes complications are a leading cause of limb amputations in the United States, and over 80% of amputations performed on diabetic patients were necessary because of foot ulcers. A small foot sore could have huge consequences if not properly cared for.
Awareness of diabetic foot ulcers and prevention methods can go a long way in keeping feet healthy. Here we’ll take a look at what foot ulcers are, what causes them, and most importantly, how to prevent them.
What is a diabetic foot ulcer?
An ulcer is an open sore or a break in the skin that most often occurs on the feet or lower legs. When caused by the complications of diabetes, they’re called diabetic foot ulcers.
How are these ulcers caused?
Unfortunately, people with diabetes are prone to foot ulcers and other foot complications because of a host of blood-sugar related ailments. Diabetic neuropathy affects most people with diabetes at some point, and while there are various manifestations, peripheral neuropathy is the most common. It causes nerve damage in the extremities—particularly the feet and legs. This means that those areas may be injured and a person may not be able to feel it.
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High blood sugar can also cause hardening and constricting of blood vessels, and those blood vessels are then less able to supply the body’s tissues with sufficient oxygen and nutrients. This means that tissues are slower to heal, and because reduced blood flow also means that the white blood cells needed to fight infection are less able to reach cuts and scrapes, wounds are more prone to infection.
Neuropathy and blood vessel damage mean that any small cut, ingrown toenail, or scrape is more likely to go unnoticed, heal slowly, and become infected. These injuries, however small they start, could become painful and dangerous ulcers if left untreated.