If you have diabetes, you know how important it is to manage your blood sugar. Controlling your carbohydrate intake is key to diabetes management, and taking special care of your legs and feet is another component of living well with diabetes.
That’s because over time, diabetes increases the risk of developing slow-healing wounds called ulcers. These most commonly develop on your lower extremities. If left untreated, leg ulcers can be life-threatening.
As a cardiovascular physician, Dr. Majed Chane of CA Heart and Vein Specialists, can help you keep your legs in tip-top shape and avoid serious health complications that can arise from leg ulcers. Here’s why it’s crucial for diabetics to recognize the signs of a leg ulcer early and get prompt treatment.
What is the link between diabetes and leg ulcers?
Elevated blood sugar damages nerves and blood vessels, which sets the stage for problems like leg ulcers. That’s because damaged blood vessels can’t deliver enough nutrient-rich blood to injured areas to promote healing, and damaged nerve fibers lack the ability to transmit information about sensation.
This means that if you have diabetes, you may have a reduced ability to feel it when you get a cut or a scape. And when injury does occur, your body has trouble healing it, leading to a slow-healing wound that’s vulnerable to infection.
Who is likely to develop a diabetic ulcer?
Anyone with diabetes is at risk of developing a leg ulcer, but they’re more common in people of Native American, African American, and Hispanic background. Patients who use insulin, as well as those with diabetes-related kidney, eye, and heart disease, are at a higher risk of getting a leg ulcer.
Obesity and the use of alcohol and tobacco contribute to the development of leg ulcers as well.
What causes leg ulcers?
Ulcers arise as a result of a combination of factors, including reduced sensation in the leg, poor circulation, irritation (such as friction or pressure), trauma, and how well your diabetes is controlled.
If you’ve had diabetes for a long time, you may develop neuropathy, which is characterized by a diminished ability or complete inability to feel pain in your legs or feet as a result of nerve damage from rising blood glucose levels over time.
Nerve injury can often occur without pain, and you may be unaware of the problem. Vascular disease can make an ulcer worse by impairing the body's ability to heal and raising the risk of infection. What’s more, elevated blood glucose levels can impair your body's ability to fight off an infection.
How is a diabetic leg ulcer treated?
The fundamental goal of ulcer treatment is to achieve healing as quickly as possible. The faster the wound heals, the less likely an infection will occur.
When treating a diabetic foot ulcer, our team takes these aspects into consideration:
- Infection prevention
- Relieving strain from your legs
- Removing dead skin or tissue
- Using medication or dressings to treat the ulcer
- Managing blood glucose levels
Not all ulcers are infected; nonetheless, if your provider identifies an infection, you need to follow a treatment plan that includes antibiotics and wound care. In some cases, hospitalization is necessary.
Maintaining control over your blood glucose is the best way to prevent a leg ulcer. A vascular checkup is a good place to start to determine your vascular health and what you can do to keep your legs healthy. Checking your legs and feet daily for cuts, scrapes, and sores is also important.
When you have vascular disease, having a cardiovascular physician as part of your health care team is invaluable. If you have diabetes and are concerned about your vascular health, contact our Huntington Beach, California, office to schedule an evaluation with Dr. Chane. You can also request an appointment online here on our website.