Having diabetes typically means changing your lifestyle in a variety of ways, including how you eat, how you exercise and the types of medication you take. But one area of life that needs extreme precaution and attention is wound care. Even the smallest wounds, including bruises, blisters and stubbed toes, can pose potential problems for those with diabetes.
Diabetes is a disease that results from the body’s inability to produce and/or use insulin, a hormone that converts sugar, starches and other food into energy. While the primary cause of diabetes is unknown, genetics and environmental factors such as obesity appear to be a contributing cause. The three types of diabetes include type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes.
One of the complications that may arise from type 1 and type 2 diabetes is a slowly healing wound. Wounds, defined as any type of damage to the skin, may take longer to heal or be harder to heal due to a number of factors including:
• nerve damage (neuropathy), which may cause one not to feel the pain of a wound until it has become infected;
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• weakened immune system, where even a minor wound can become infected; and
• narrow arteries, which can make it hard for blood to reach the wound for proper healing.
If left untreated, wounds can become infected and may lead to amputation or death.
If people with diabetes find themselves with a wound, there are a few steps to take in order to avoid infection and promote healing. First, the wound should be cleaned immediately by rinsing it under water to remove dirt. Antibiotic ointment should be used to prevent infection, and the site should be covered with a sterile bandage.
Second, have your family physician check the wound. Even if the wound looks minor, it can easily turn into a serious problem. A physician can assess the severity of the wound and provide suggestions for quicker healing.
Lastly, you should keep pressure off the wound as it heals, especially if the wound is a blister, callus or ulcer on the bottom of the foot.
Preventing diabetic wounds, however, is key and can help make life more enjoyable for those with diabetes. Take the following steps to help prevent wounds:
• Wash and carefully dry your feet daily.
• Remove dead skin and tissue after washing, especially dry skin on the foot.
• Moisturize feet to prevent cracking, which can lead to wounds.
• Wear appropriate shoes and socks, and never walk barefoot.
• Inspect your feet every day, including the soles and between the toes.
• Keep toenails clipped evenly to reduce ingrown toenails.
• Reduce additional risk factors such as high blood sugar, high cholesterol, smoking and the use of alcohol.
By following these precautionary steps and keeping in close contact with your family physician, your quality of life should improve and wound susceptibility should decrease. Remember, any type of break in the skin is classified as a wound, so check yourself often and react early.