By Dr. Jonathan Brantley
More than 29 million Americans have diabetes, according to the latest estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and there’s a pretty good chance either you or someone you know belongs to the percentage of people who live with the disease. When it comes to living with diabetes, some of the common things doctors talk about are the importance of keeping a good diet, exercising regularly and taking all the right medication.
But there is one thing that many people overlook: Proper foot care. As a practicing wound care clinician in Richmond, I’ve seen firsthand how essential foot care is to prevent diabetic foot ulcers, or DFUs, serious complications that can result in amputation if not properly treated. DFUs start out innocently enough, usually as a simple cut, scrape or blister on the foot. But because diabetic patients often experience a condition called peripheral neuropathy, which numbs the extremities to pain, these minor injuries can go unnoticed. Poor blood circulation — another common complication of diabetes — can also prevent these wounds from healing as quickly as they should.
In some cases, this leads to infection and requires amputation of a toe, foot or leg. As we recognize Limb Loss Awareness Month this April, now is the time to educate your loved ones about good foot health and to empower them to practice it so more lives and limbs can be saved. I’m not exaggerating when I say that proper foot care can save your life. Recent studies show that as many as 10 percent of people living with diabetes will experience a DFU at some point in their lifetime.
And approximately 15 percent of those patients will eventually end up needing an amputation. Fortunately, DFUs are preventable. New advances in wound healing technology, as well as increased patient awareness about the dangers of DFUs, have been successful in many cases. Nonetheless, patients still need to be active participants in the prevention process. I often advise my patients to be vigilant foot inspectors.
Take a few minutes every day to check your feet for any cuts, blisters or swelling. You should also keep your feet clean by regularly washing them with soap and warm water. Most importantly, never go barefoot — even inside the house. You should always wear thick, comfortable socks and make sure you have properly fitting shoes that won’t rub or cause blisters. Even with proper care, DFUs still can occur. If you are diabetic and develop an open sore or wound, it’s important to seek treatment quickly from a trained wound care specialist.
That way, the wound can be treated in its earliest stages so that the wound has an optimal environment to heal on its own. If a wound fails to heal after several weeks of conventional healing methods, a physician may apply an advanced, FDA-approved wound healing product. These therapies are made from living cells and are specially designed to facilitate new skin production. They’ve been clinically proven to encourage healing and act as a critical last line of defense against a devastating amputation.
Living with diabetes is a daily challenge, but it only takes small steps to get into the right foot care routine. So this April, don’t forget your feet. By getting into a foot care routine, you can stay one step ahead of DFUs and prevent the risk of amputation.
Dr. Jonathan Brantley is chief of podiatric medicine, McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center.