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Take the first step in understanding foot ulcers and wound care

November 08, 2022 

The number of Americans with diabetes, most commonly type 2 diabetes, is growing more than ever before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The percentage of those diagnosed increases with age, but other risk factors for developing diabetes include diet, activity level, smoking and obesity.

One complication of diabetes is a foot ulcer. Nearly 25% of diabetics will develop a foot ulcer during their lifetime. As many as 40% of people with a healed ulcer will develop a new one within a year. 

The development of a foot ulcer typically occurs in three stages:

  • A callus forms as a result of neuropathy - damage to the nerves, causing pain and numbness.
  • The skin dries out and becomes flakey as skin cells die.
  • The callus progresses to a state of hemorrhage, then erodes to become an ulcer.

Patients with foot ulcers can also develop severe buildup of plaque, called atherosclerosis, of the small blood vessels in the legs and feet, leading to vascular complications. Because blood cannot reach the wound, healing is delayed which can lead to necrosis and gangrene.

Melissa Albert, RN, BSN, clinical program director at the Wound Care Center at HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital Highland, says ulcers most often develop on the ball of the foot or the bottom of the big toe.

“It can be really challenging treating these types of ulcers,” says Albert. “Because of the numbness and not being able to feel the wound, patients continue to walk on it leading to more extensive damage and then to infection and the need for immediate medical care.”

If you are diagnosed with diabetes, taking care of your feet is very important, even if they feel fine.

  • Wash your feet thorough every day
  • Keep your toenails trimmed and filed with an emery board
  • Check your feet daily for sores, cuts, blisters and/or redness; look between your toes
  • Do not remove calluses or corns yourself
  • Moisturize your feet, but avoid moisturizing between the toes
  • Wear shoes that fit well; don’t walk around barefoot

Signs you may be developing a diabetic foot ulcer, include:

  • A callus with bleeding beneath it
  • A dark or bruised area of your foot
  • Blister(s)
  • Redness that does not go away

“Those with a foot ulcer, or even just signs of a diabetic foot ulcer, should contact a wound care specialist,” says Albert. “Based on the severity of the ulcer, we can offer several treatment options, such as total contact casting, negative pressure wound therapy and hyperbaric oxygen treatment, all of which can be effective in healing.”

In partnership with Healogics, the nation's pioneer and leader in wound management service, HSHS St. Joseph's Hospital in Highland's Wound Center provides specialized treatment for chronic or non-healing wounds, which are defined as sores or wounds that have not significantly improved from conventional treatments.

Contact HSHS St. Joseph’s Wound Care Center if you have a wound that will not heal with traditional treatment methods. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call 618-651-2502. Patients may be seen with or without a physician's referral.

For more information about diabetes foot complications, visit the American Diabetes Association website.

Take the first step in understanding foot ulcers and wound care