If you have diabetes, your body functions a bit differently than people who don’t have diabetes. As a diabetic, your body either does not produce insulin naturally, or is unable to use it properly. This may lead to the need to test your blood sugar often and use artificial insulin. However, it also means that wounds might not heal as quickly or effectively as they would in a body without diabetes.
If you or someone you know is suffering from diabetes, it’s crucial to understand how it can affect wound healing and be aware of the importance of proper wound care and management. Diabetic wounds that are not taken care of can quickly progress into an infection which can result in serious complications such as required surgery, foot ulcers, or even amputation.
Understanding How Wounds Heal
Generally, there are four stages of wound healing:
The foundation for new tissue is red blood cells. These blood cells then create collagen, which in turn becomes new tissue. Once this new tissue is formed it leads to new skin growing over the tissue. At the point that the wound finally heals, the edges then pull inward and the wound will begin to get smaller.
How Diabetes Affects Proper Wound Healing
Unfortunately, Diabetes is a common problem in this country. In fact, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 28.7 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with diabetes. Due to the nature of the disease, many of these individuals will develop wounds that heal slowly, improperly, or won’t heal at all. Without proper medical attention, this can result in wound infection among other serious health issues.
Let’s take a look at how diabetes impacts wound healing, how the disease makes the recovery process more difficult, and what you can do to help if you or a loved one is diabetic and has suffered a serious wound.
1. Diabetics Often Suffer from Chronic Inflammation
During the second stage of healing, wounds are inflamed. However, when diabetic wounds heal, sometimes this stage can take too long; resulting in the wound becoming “chronic”. A wound is considered chronic when it lasts for six months or longer.
2. Elevated Blood Sugar Levels
Because diabetes limits the body from handling glucose, one of the most important things that diabetics need to worry about is maintaining a healthy blood sugar level. Blood sugar levels are a major determining factor in how efficiently your wounds heal. When these levels are too high, in people with diabetes, for example, it can interfere with how the immune system functions, prevent nutrients and oxygen from energizing cells, and increase inflammation. All of which, can interfere with efficient wound healing.
3. Diabetic Neuropathy
High blood glucose can also cause the arteries to become stiff, which can lead to narrow blood vessels and diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy occurs when nerves become damaged all over the body. It causes tingling and numbness in the limbs, which makes it difficult to be aware of whether or not you are injured. This can lead to new wounds and complications in overall healing.
In light of that, it’s important for diabetics to check their skin often, especially the bottom of the feet. The legs and feet are most commonly affected by diabetic neuropathy.
Additional Tip: People who suffer from diabetic neuropathy should ensure they wear shoes that fit properly and avoid cuts, blisters, and any type of activity that may cause ulcers.
4. Circulation Problems
Wounds heal much quicker when there is a good circulation of blood throughout the body. Diabetics typically have poor circulation due to narrowed blood vessels and are more likely to develop poor circulation conditions like peripheral vascular disease. The reduced oxygen in those suffering from diabetes can result in slower tissue development and in turn, wound healing.
5. Poor Immune System Function
High blood sugar levels decrease red and white blood cell function, which reduces nutrients being sent to the wound site to fight infections. This is also due to a diabetic body producing certain hormones that make the immune system less effective. If your immune system isn’t functioning correctly, it can slow wound healing and because the body can have a difficult time fighting off bacteria it can put you at greater risk of infection.
Additional Tip: Some doctors recommend wearing white socks at all times in order to be able to see any blood or pus if an injury occurs. This can help alert you if there are cuts, blisters, or another type of wound.
6. Increased Risk of Infection
Diabetic patients have a slower movement of white blood cells than the average person. This means that there is less of an immune response, which leaves wounds to be more inflamed. This combined with numbness from neuropathy can lead to the wound getting worse.
As referenced above, with an open wound that heals slower than it normally would, there is an increased chance of infection. This often leads to higher rates of gangrene, sepsis, and infections like osteomyelitis. Out of all of the limbs amputated each year, diabetic ulcers are the number one cause.
Treating and Preventing Diabetic Wounds
If not carefully monitored and treated, wounds can be very serious and quickly lead to infection. Fortunately, wound care specialists are trained and equipped with the expertise to help ensure wounds are cared for properly and healed efficiently. If you get a diabetic ulcer or are unsure of a wound it’s important to see a medical professional as soon as possible. Especially if the wound isn’t healing or infection has started to spread.
Your wound care specialist will work with you to help prevent the wound from getting bigger and avoid potential infection. They may also conduct debridement which helps remove unhealthy tissue from the wound and facilitate healing.
While most diabetic wounds are better addressed through a specialist, there are a few steps you can take to help the recovery process and even prevent wounds from surfacing:
- Keep your wound clean and try not to put pressure on it. It’s also a good idea to avoid walking barefoot.
- Keep your wound covered with a dressing or bandage. Your specialist can help determine the right dressing to use.
- Use any topical medications your specialist has recommended.
- Eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise, and avoid smoking.
- Check your skin every day especially when it comes to your feet.
- Ask for recommendations for how to maintain your blood sugar.
Specialized Care to Help You Heal
Wounds can become serious for anyone but it’s even more important for those with diabetes to stay vigilant and ensure you are caring for them properly. If you or a loved one believes they might have a diabetic wound, the wound care specialists at West Coast Wound & Skin Care are here to help. We provide high quality, full spectrum wound care services to patients wherever they reside.
We Heal Diabetic Ulcers 25% Quicker Than Other Practices!
We also welcome you to come visit our new Wound Center in Fresno where our wound care physicians help treat the complete range of wound types and skin concerns including diabetic wounds and ulcers. Contact us today to book an appointment and let us help you get on the path to recovery.