An estimated 30.3 million Americans (9.4% of the population) have diabetes, including 7.2 million who are unaware they are living with the disease. The percentage of adults with diabetes increases with age, reaching a high of 25.2% among those ages 65 or older. In addition to age, risk factors for diabetes also include diet, activity level, obesity and heredity.
An important part of managing the disease is protecting your skin and early diagnosis and treatment of wounds. Diabetic wounds can be slow to heal due to high blood sugar levels, poor circulation, immune systems issues, nerve damage, and infection. These factors can contribute to a non-healing diabetic foot ulcer. An estimated 14-24% of people with foot ulcers will experience an amputation.
“Chronic foot and leg wounds are often caused by underlying conditions such as diabetes and vascular disease,” said Jennifer Fields, MS, FNP, nurse practitioner for Rome Memorial Hospital’s Regional Center for Wound Care. “It is estimated that 25% of all diabetics will develop a diabetic foot ulcer, and without treatment the wounds can lead to amputation or death.”
“Fortunately, early detection and intervention can help mitigate the possibility of limb loss,” Fields explained.
There are common factors of diabetic foot ulcers including neuropathy and peripheral arterial disease (PAD). Neuropathy is a result of damage to peripheral nerves and often causes weakness, numbness and pain in hands and feet. Similarly, PAD is caused by narrowed arteries which reduce blood flow to the limbs.
In addition to direct treatment of wounds, staff at the Regional Center for Wound Care work to educate patients about diabetes and how to prevent complications, particularly foot and leg wounds.
“Over time, diabetes can cause changes in blood vessels and nerves that can affect many different parts of the body, which is why proper disease management is so vital.” Fields explained. “Our program works because we develop relationships with our patients to help them understand their disease and show them the difference lifestyle changes can make in their overall health.”
Rome Memorial Hospital and The Regional Center for Wound Care recommend the following to help prevent diabetic foot ulcers:
Stop smoking immediately
Comprehensive foot examinations each time you visit your healthcare provider (at least four times a year)
Daily self-inspections of the feet, or have a family member perform the inspection
Regular care of the feet including cleaning toenails and taking care of corns and calluses