Diabetes And Your Health: Understanding, Preventing And Treating Hard-To-Heal Wounds

If you have been recently diagnosed with diabetes, you may be overwhelmed with information about how this disease can affect your life. For many the initial concern focuses on a change in lifestyle that includes controlling carbs, exercising and losing weight to get the glucose levels in the blood under control. But there are other health risks you should be aware of. Difficult or slow wound healing is one of them. Find out how diabetes can cause problems with wound healing, what you can do to reduce the risk and how it's treated if it happens to you.

How does diabetes cause hard-to-heal wounds?

You may think that problems with healing won't happen to you. It doesn't affect everyone, but if it does it can have devastating results such as amputations. According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 60% of non-traumatic lower-limb amputations occur in people age 20 and older who are diagnosed with diabetes. Understanding how and why diabetes increases your risk makes minimizing those risks easier.

  • High Glucose Levels: High glucose levels, also referred to as high sugar levels, in the bloodstream causes blood vessels to become stiff and rigid. It also narrows the vessels, making it more difficult for blood to flow freely through veins and arteries.
  • Poor Circulation: The narrowing of blood vessels leads to poor blood circulation, particularly to the extremities. This means that wounds or cuts do not receive the oxygen they need to heal properly.
  • Immune System Response: Diabetes also affects the immune system. Not only is the entire immune system compromised, the decreased blood flow to extremities also means that the white cells that fight infection cannot reach the wound efficiently.
  • Neuropathy: Neuropathy, a condition affecting the nerves that causes a loss of sensation, also contributes to slow wound healing. Because someone with neuropathy may be unable to feel cuts or scrapes, these wounds can go unnoticed until infection sets in.

Can you prevent problems with slow wound healing?

Although there is no cure for diabetes, you can control the condition with lifestyle changes and/or medication. This reduces the risk of problems with hard-to-heal wounds. There are some other simple things you can do to avoid problems.

  • Control glucose levels: Keeping your glucose levels under control is a major concern. Work with your medical professional to monitor your diet and exercise and adjust medication to keep your numbers low.
  • Check your feet: Get in the habit of checking your feet daily for any signs of cuts, scrapes or infections. Monitor all wounds, regardless of their location, closely for any signs of infection or slow healing.
  • Seek medical attention early: If you suspect a wound is becoming infected, or appears to be healing slowly, seek medical advice right away. Once infection sets in it can progress quickly.

How are hard-to-heal wounds treated?

  • Antibiotics: Your doctor may prescribe either topical or oral antibiotics to treat the wound and speed healing. Follow his instructions carefully and take all medication as instructed.
  • Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment (HBOT): HBOT treatment may be necessary to speed the healing of wounds. In HBOT, you will breathe pure oxygen either from a pressurized chamber of through a tube. This floods your bloodstream with the oxygen it needs to speed the healing of wounds.
  • Hygiene & Care: Good hygiene goes a long way to preventing infections and healing wounds. Bathing your feet and drying them thoroughly with a soft cloth every day helps to reduce the risk of developing ulcers or wounds on the feet. Wearing shoes or slippers also prevents accidental injuries that can lead to serious problems.

Diabetes is a serious condition that needs careful monitoring, but it is manageable. Taking care of yourself and keeping your glucose levels under control goes a long way to avoiding serious consequences like hard-to-heal wounds. You may be able to fill prescriptions for medications designed to heal wounds at a local apothecary, such as potter's apothecary.