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What Is the Concern with Diabetes and Wounds?

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  • Written By: Synthia L. Rose
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 21 August 2016
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People battling elevated blood sugar levels often suffer from two related concerns: diabetes and wounds that heal poorly. According to doctors, excess glucose in the bloodstream triggers destructive conditions, such as poor blood circulation, numbness and low oxygen in some body tissues; these effects contribute to the non-healing of wounds since wounds require oxygen from circulating blood to close and self-repair. When wounds do not heal quickly or at all, those with diabetes run the risk of infection so severe it could necessitate amputation.

Body parts in the lower extremities, most commonly feet or a few toes on a foot, are the most likely candidates for amputation, according to medical reports. Two types of wounds are possible for diabetics. These are arterial insufficiency wounds, which are caused by damaged or blocked arteries in the calves that can’t provide proper circulation, and pressure wounds, which are caused by sustained force on one localized area due to sustained laying or sitting in the same position.

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Often the body can correct the dearth of oxygen in a non-diabetic person that has a wound. The torn or gouged tissue can typically grow new blood vessels at the site of the wound to deliver additional oxygen. When diabetes and wounds coexist, however, the ability of the diabetic’s body to generate new blood vessels is reduced, medical studies show. In such cases, simple cracks in the skin, abrasions, sores and scratches can become infected and develop into serious long-lasting wounds in diabetics.

The menacing combination of diabetes and wounds is further complicated by the numbness that accompanies diabetes. Patients sometimes lose so much sensation in their legs and feet that they don’t feel pain from ulcers and sores and, thus, may be unaware that a wound is present or hasn’t healed. When the wounds go unnoticed and neglected for long periods, the ability of doctors to save the affected limb is reduced. Gangrene and bacterial infections can, therefore, set in. Physicians usually advise diabetic patients to not rely on sensing wounds but to regularly visually inspect all parts of the legs and feet, even difficult to see places like the heel and sole, and seek emergency help as soon as a wound is noticed.

Not all wounds for diabetic patients involve open sores or cuts. One typical diabetes-related wound is Charcot foot. This condition involves swelling of the foot, accompanied by a sensation of warmth throughout the foot. Charcot foot also involves soreness and deterioration of muscle tissue that results in a bony foot.

To treat diabetes and wounds resulting from diabetes, doctors first attempt to regulate the patient’s blood sugar with daily medication. A specific wound remedy depends on the wound type; for example, pressure wounds can be treated by stopping all surface pressure on the wound site and applying antibiotics. Arterial insufficiency wounds are treated by leg bypass surgery and angioplasty. Sometimes, medicines can be given to the patient to increase the proteins responsible for helping the body grow new blood vessels in wounded areas. Preventative measures for diabetes and wounds include daily testing of blood sugar levels and adhering to a low-glycemic diet.

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