November is National Diabetes Awareness Month and one important goal of this month is helping every person with diabetes build a healthier life by making them aware of the importance of daily foot checks.
Did you know that approximately 25-30 percent of patients with diabetes develop a foot sore, or ulcer? Though foot ulcers can be anywhere on the foot, most occur on the ball of the foot or on the bottom of the big toe.
There are several reasons why patients with diabetes have foot problems, but the most common reason is that many suffer from nerve damage called neuropathy, which causes loss of sensation in the feet. Additionally, these patients also suffer from poor circulation, which can make your foot less able to fight infection and heal. Poor circulation can also change the shape of your feet or toes, which also causes problems.
Once you develop an ulcer, it may take weeks or even several months for it to heal. Left untreated, a foot ulcer can become infected and in turn lead to the loss of a limb. In fact, research has shown that diabetic foot ulcers precede approximately 84 percent of all lower leg amputations.
After a thorough evaluation, which may include diagnostic testing, your physician will discuss a treatment plan with you. Treatments vary based on individuals, but may include:
• Special dressings to absorb drainage
• Prevention and treatment of infection
• Appropriate off-loading device (i.e., a special shoe, cast, wheel chair, etc.)
• Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO)
Until your foot ulcer is healed, your activity will be limited. Walking on an ulcer can cause it to get larger and force the infection deeper into your foot. It is important you follow your physician’s recommendations.
Your physician will also encourage you to eat healthy. Foods high in protein, vitamins and minerals are important to healing and maintaining healthy skin.
The good news is that early intervention, proper treatment and a multi-disciplinary team approach increases your chances of healing and reduces the rate of amputation by as much as 85 percent.
You may be at risk for a diabetic foot ulcer if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms:
• Lack of sensation (feeling) in your feet
• Feeling of “pins and needles” in your feet
• Feet hurt while walking or resting
• Sores don’t heal
• Skin on your feet becomes thick, dry or scaly
• Calluses develop easily on the soles of your feet
The most important thing you can do to lower your risk of developing a foot ulcer is to manage your diabetes. With proper self-care, most symptoms can be reduced and foot ulcers minimized. Early recognition of an ulcer and immediate care under your physician’s direction can prevent complications.
Kristopher R. Jones, RN, BSN, is the program director of the Center for Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine at Bristol Hospital. For more information or an appointment, please call 860-585-3397 or visit www.bristolhospital.org