Experts suggest that around 10 per cent of people with diabetes develop a foot ulcer at some point.
Diabetes influences foot ulcers in a number of ways, and it is important for people with diabetes to understand the potentially severe consequences of leaving a foot ulcer untreated.
What is a diabetic foot ulcer?
Foot ulcers can occur in anyone, and refer to a patch of broken down skin usually on the lower leg or feet.
When blood sugar levels are high or fluctuate regularly skin that would normally heal may not properly repair itself because of nerve damage.
Even a mild injury can therefore start a foot ulcer.
Why are people with diabetes more likely to get foot ulcers?
People with diabetes may have reduced nerve functioning due to peripheral diabetic neuropathy.
This means that the nerves that usually carry pain sensation to the brain from the feet do not function as well and it is possible for damage to uccur to your foot without feeling it.
Treading on something, wearing tight shoes, cuts, blisters and bruises can all develop into diabetes foot ulcers.
Narrowed arteries can also reduce blood flow to the feet amongst some people with diabetes and this can impair the foot’s ability to heal properly. When the foot cannot heal, a foot ulcer can develop.
What are the risk factors for diabetes foot ulcers?
The following can increase the likelihood of developing a foot ulcer:
- Poor blood circulation
- Insufficiently well controlled diabetes
- Wearing poor fitting footwear
- Walking barefoot
People who have diabetes for a longer period or manage their diabetes less effectively are more likely to develop foot ulcers. Smoking, not taking exercise, being overweight, having high cholesterol or blood pressure can all increase diabetes foot ulcer risk.
How serious are foot ulcers?
Unfortunately, for some people with diabetes, the end result of a foot ulcer can be amputation. Less serious foot ulcers can still take a long time to heal and be very uncomfortable during this time.
How can I avoid diabetes foot ulcers?
Avoiding diabetes foot ulcers is a matter of taking good care of the feet (see the Diabetes and Footcare guide).
Furthermore, people with diabetes should have their feet checked at least once a year by a doctor or healthcare professional. Recognising symptoms such as reduced feeling and acting on them immediately should help to avoid diabetes foot ulcers.
I have diabetes and I am worried that I have a foot ulcer, what should I do?
People with diabetes who are concerned that they may have a foot ulcer should speak to a doctor or podiatrist at once. These professionals should dress and protect the ulcer to avoid infection and help the skin heal.