Many kinds of foot and ankle conditions follow a certain, basic pattern.
Often the problem starts out small, maybe even barely noticeable. It might cause you some mild discomfort every once in a while, but nothing you can’t handle. But the longer you let things go without making treatment a priority, the worse it will get—and the more difficult it will be to eventually get rid of.
This pattern holds for things like bunions, heel pain, stress fractures, hammertoes, and so many other conditions. But if you have a diabetic wound, the stakes are especially high. While a delay in treating your heel pain might cost you a few extra months of painful recovery, a delay in treating your wound can cost you your leg—or worse.
Why Wounds Are So Dangerous
Diabetes can have a lot of damaging effects on multiple systems throughout your body. Each of these, on their own, can be dangerous to your health. But when combined, the threat increases almost exponentially.
Specifically, the biggest risk factors are:
- Poor circulation. Even in otherwise healthy people, it can be somewhat more challenging for blood to supply the feet with oxygen and nutrients due to small blood vessels, distance from the heart, and the fight against gravity to return. The inflammation associated with diabetes chokes these tiny blood vessels even further. Some notable results of this restricted circulation? Wounds take longer to heal, and your immune system can’t fight infections as easily.
- Nerve damage. How do you know when you’ve stubbed your toe, broken a bone, or suffered a paper cut? Easy: it hurts! But in order for your brain to realize it, those pain signals need to be transmitted via peripheral sensory nerves. If you have diabetes, these sensory nerves in your feet may be significantly damaged, dulled, or even disconnected.
You can probably see where this is going. For many with diabetes, wounds are less likely to get noticed, less likely to heal on their own, and give you less time to deal with them before an infection potentially sets in.
This is why diabetic wounds can get out of control so quickly. Today’s small cut or burst blister could, if undetected or left untreated, develop into a large, deep, infected ulcer.
The Scale of the Problem
Now, if you’ve never dealt with a diabetic foot wound before, this might all sound … “theoretical,” to some extent. Sure, you understand that it happens to some people. But that doesn’t mean it will happen to you, right?
Before we try to answer that, it might help to put some numbers on the problem.
Each year in the United States, somewhere around 100,000 people undergo a lower extremity amputation related to diabetes, usually to stop an infection from progressing. That could mean a toe, part of a foot, or part of a leg.
Of the people who do get an amputation, about half die within five years. Of course, that’s not to say that the amputation was the primary cause in all of these cases. People who reach that stage with a wound often have many other health problems to deal with. However, it’s undeniable that losing a foot can have an adverse effect on your physical and mental health, ability to exercise, ability to engage in social activities, and more.
If you have diabetes, your lifetime risk of developing at least one concerning foot ulcer is estimated to be around 1 in 4. Now, again, not everybody who gets a foot ulcer will require amputation. If you act quickly, you can almost always prevent the worst outcomes. If you choose to delay treatment, the risk that your ulcer will fail to heal and develop a dangerous infection will only get higher, day by day, hour by hour.
Take Swift Action to Protect Your Quality of Life
Fortunately, you’ve got a couple of big advantages on your side.
- Diabetic ulcers are usually preventable.
- Even if you do develop a diabetic ulcer, amputations are almost always preventable.
It’s not even that hard, really, to do these things. You just need to understand what you need to do and take the threat seriously.
The first step is that you should be examining your feet closely on your own, at home, every day. It just takes five minutes. Check your feet, your skin, your nails, and the spaces between your toes. Use a mirror if you have to. Feel your feet with your hands for things like unusual bumps or temperature changes in the skin. If you spot or feel anything unusual, make a note of it.
The second step is to call us immediately if you notice any problems that don’t improve within a few days, or any cuts or wounds that don’t seem to be healing normally. If you aren’t sure, call us anyway. We’d rather you be safe than sorry, and if we don’t think you need to come in just yet, we’ll tell you.
The stakes are just too high, and even a few days of hesitation can mean much worse outcomes. Even if it doesn’t lead to amputation, you still could wind up with a hospital stay, extra visits to the wound care clinic, more days off your feet, more days where you can’t work—trust us, it isn’t fun.
Exceptional Wound Care Is Just a Call Away
At Capital Podiatry Associates, we provide exceptional wound care services for patients of all ages. We will ensure that your wound receives the prompt medical attention it requires, and that you leave our office well prepared to continue your care at home.
To a podiatrist, almost nothing is worse than performing amputations, especially because we know how preventable they are. Helping our patients avoid them is one of the most satisfying things we do. We don’t want you to become another statistic!
If you have any concerns whatsoever about a wound on your foot, don’t hesitate even one second to give us a call. We understand how serious these cases are, and will make every effort to see you as soon as possible. We can even perform an inspection of a wound via telemedicine if getting to the office promptly would be a challenge for you. Don’t let anything stop you—call us today at (703) 560-3773 for the timely and effective care you deserve.