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Diabetes and Wounds: Caring for Sores

Avoid amputation with the prevention and early treatment of skin sores.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Every 30 seconds, somewhere in the world, someone loses a lower limb as a result of diabetes. That's because diabetes and wounds are a dangerous combination.

If you have diabetes, there's no such thing as a minor wound to the foot -- even a small foot sore can turn into an ulcer that, if not properly treated, can lead to amputation. The rate of amputation for people with diabetes is 10 times higher than for those who don't have the disease. 

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Most of these amputations could easily be prevented with good foot care and wound treatment. "You can't always prevent an ulcer, but you can almost always prevent an amputation," says Harold Brem, director of the Wound Healing Program at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Here's what you need to know about preventing foot sores and treating them in order to avoid an amputation.

Diabetes and Wounds: Prevention Matters

People with diabetes are at increased risk for complications from wound healing for several reasons. First, diabetes decreases blood flow, so injuries are slower to heal than in people who do not have the disease. Second, many people with diabetes also have neuropathy -- reduced sensation in their hands or feet -- which means they don't necessarily notice an injury right away.

Why are feet at more risk for diabetes wounds? Because feet just take more of a beating in our daily lives than hands do, and we don't look at them as often, so it's harder to spot a wound.

5 Tips for Preventing Foot Sores

The best way to prevent wound complications is to prevent the wound in the first place. You do that by taking good care of your feet. Top ways to keep your feet in good health include:

  • Check your feet every single day, and wash them with mild soap and water. (Be sure to check the water temperature first.) Make it part of your daily routine, just like brushing your teeth. 
  • Dry your feet well . Moisture retained between the toes can cause skin breakdowns.  
  • Be cautious in nail salons . Though some specialists recommend avoiding salons and having your nails cut only by a podiatrist, others simply urge caution. "You want to make sure the salon's certification is current and visible," says Brunilda Nazario, MD, a diabetes specialist and senior medical editor for WebMD.

And ask when the salon was last inspected by the state, Nazario says. Before treatment, watch to see that the tools are properly sanitized. They should be freshly unwrapped or have just been removed from heat or chemical sterilization -- if it's not clear, ask. If you choose, you could also bring your own nail files.Will you be using a foot spa? Find out whether it's been cleaned and disinfected. "These precautions aren't just for people with diabetes," Nazario says, "They apply to everyone."

  • Keep your feet from drying and cracking with regular applications of foot cream. You don't need a special cream -- any moisturizer available at your drugstore, like Aquaphor, Cetaphil, and Eucerin, will work.
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