What it is
Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease that affects the lives of about 16 million people in the United States, 5.4 million of whom are unaware that they even have the disease. Every day, 2,200 new cases of diabetes are diagnosed, and an estimated 780,000 new cases are identified each year. The disease is marked by the inability to manufacture or properly use insulin, and impairs the body's ability to convert sugars, starches, and other foods into energy. The long-term effects of elevated blood sugar (hyperglycemia) are damage to the eyes, heart, feet, kidneys, nerves, and blood vessels.
The Role of Your Podiatrist
Because diabetes is a systemic disease affecting many different parts of the body, ideal case management requires a team approach. The podiatric physician, as an integral part of the treatment team, has documented success in the prevention of amputations. The key to amputation prevention in diabetic patients is early recognition and regular foot screenings, at least annually, from a podiatric physician.
In addition to these check ups, there are warning signs that you should be aware of so that they may be identified and called to the attention of the family physician or podiatrist. They include:
• Skin color changes
• Elevation in skin temperature
• Swelling of the foot or ankle
• Pain in the legs
• Open sores on the feet that are slow to heal
• Ingrown and fungal toenails
• Bleeding corns and calluses
• Dry cracks in the skin, especially around the heel
Wound Healing Problems
Ulceration is a common occurrence with the diabetic foot, and should be carefully treated and monitored by a podiatrist to avoid amputations. Poorly fitted shoes, or something as trivial as a stocking seam, can create a wound that may not be felt by someone whose skin sensation is diminished. Left unattended, such ulcers can quickly become infected and lead to more serious consequences. Your podiatric physician knows how to treat and prevent these wounds and can be an important factor in keeping your feet healthy and strong. New to the science of wound healing are remarkable products that have the appearance and handling characteristics of human skin. These living, skin-like products are applied to wounds that are properly prepared by the podiatric physician. Clinical trials have shown impressive success rates.
How Can You Prevent Foot Ulcers
The best way to treat a diabetic foot ulcer is to prevent its development in the first place. Recommended guidelines include seeing a podiatrist on a regular basis. He or she can determine if you are at high risk for developing a foot ulcer and implement strategies for prevention.
You are at high risk if you:
• have neuropathy
• have poor circulation
• have a foot deformity (i.e. bunion, hammer toe)
• wear inappropriate shoes
• have uncontrolled blood sugar
Reducing additional risk factors, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, high cholesterol, and elevated blood glucose are important in the prevention and treatment of a diabetic foot ulcer. Wearing the appropriate shoes and socks will go a long way in reducing risks. Your podiatric physician can provide guidance in selecting the proper shoes.
Learning how to check your feet is crucial in noticing a potential problem as early as possible. Inspect your feet every day-especially between the toes and the sole-for cuts, bruises, cracks, blisters, redness, ulcers, and any sign of abnormality. Each time you visit a health care provider, remove your shoes and socks so your feet can be examined. Any problems that are discovered should be reported to your podiatrist as soon as possible, no matter how "simple" it may seem to you.
The key to successful wound healing is regular podiatric medical care to ensure the following "gold standard" of care:
• lowering blood sugar
• appropriate debridement of wounds
• treating any infection
• reducing friction and pressure
• restoring adequate blood flow
The old saying, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" was never as true as it is when preventing a diabetic foot ulcer.