• Diabetic Foot Ulcer


    Ulcers are slow-healing wounds on the skin. Diabetic foot ulcers occur on the feet of people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Diabetic foot ulcers usually occur on the bottom of the foot.
    Foot Ulcer
    Foot Ulcers
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    Diabetes can damage the nerves of the legs and feet. This may make it difficult to feel a blister or sore. If you don't care for a sore it may become larger and infected.
    Diabetes also can cause problems with blood flow. Poor blood flow can make it difficult to heal.
    The ulcer itself is usually caused by:
    • Repetitive trauma or pressure on the foot
    • Puncture wound on the foot
    • Objects in the shoe that can damage the skin, such as a small rock

    Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your chance of diabetic foot ulcers include:
    • Neuropathy—numbness, tingling, or burning sensation in your feet
    • Peripheral artery disease (PAD)—poor circulation in your legs
    • Improperly fitted shoes
    • A foot deformity
    • Diabetes for more than 10 years
    • Poor diabetes control (HbA1c > 9% )
    • Not wearing shoes
    • A history of smoking


    Symptoms may include:
    • Sores, ulcers, or blisters on the foot or lower leg
    • Pain
    • Difficulty walking
    • Discoloration in feet: black, blue, or red
    • Fever, skin redness, swelling, or other signs of infection


    You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your primary doctor may refer you to a foot specialist.
    Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
    • Blood tests
    • Wound culture
    • Ankle-brachial pressure
    Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:


    The sooner a diabetic foot ulcer is treated, the better the outcome. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:

    Wound Care

    Good wound care is important to help the ulcer heal and prevent infection. Follow your doctor's instructions for wound care. Make sure to clean the wound regularly. Change the dressings often to prevent infection.

    No Weight-bearing

    Constant pressure on the ulcer can make it difficult to heal. Your doctor may ask you to take some pressure off of the ulcer area. You may be given a special cast or boot. These will take the pressure off of your foot, but still allow you to walk.

    Blood Glucose Control

    Infected ulcers can raise high blood glucose levels. High blood glucose levels can then lower the body's ability to fight infections. The high level also keeps the wound from healing.
    Improved blood glucose control will help you fight any infections and heal your wounds. This control is often done with adjustments in your diet or medications. Sometimes insulin shots are needed in the short-term until you are healthy again.

    Healthy Habits

    If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit. Smoking can slow healing.
    Wear proper footwear. Make sure it fits well.

    Skin Graft

    Some large skin ulcers may have a hard time fully healing even with the treatments above. They may need a patch of skin to help close the wound. This process is called a skin graft. Bioengineered skin graft or human skin graft may be used.


    If the ulcer is infected, your doctor may advise antibiotics. You may need to take the medication for 4-6 weeks. Do not skip doses. Finish the medication as directed.
    Your doctor may also recommend a medication to place on the ulcer. The medication may help speed healing.


    Dead tissue can build up inside and around the wound. This tissue will slow or prevent healing. You may need surgery to remove the dead tissue and clean the wound. This surgery is called debridement.
    Bypass surgery may be needed to improve blood flow to the legs. This surgery uses healthy blood vessels to carry blood past areas of unhealthy blood vessels. The improved blood flow may help with wound healing.
    Sometimes an infection is too severe or does not respond to treatment. As a last resort, amputation surgery may be needed. This is the removal of a body part to stop the infection from spreading to the rest of the body.

    Other Treatments

    Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may help with healing. This therapy is delivered in a chamber. Pure oxygen is pumped into the chamber. This helps to increase the amount of oxygen in the blood. The extra oxygen can improve healing.
    Another option to help speed healing is using negative pressure wound therapy. A vacuum device and dressing are used to create negative pressure on the wound. This can help the wound heal faster.


    To help reduce your chance of diabetic foot ulcers:
    • Clean your feet daily. Dry them thoroughly, especially between the toes, before putting shoes and socks on.
    • Do not wear garters and tight stockings around the legs.
    • You may want to use petroleum jelly or an unscented lotion to moisturize dry, leathery feet. Do not put lotion between the toes. The extra moisture may attract bacteria.
    • Inspect your feet daily. Look for sores that you may not be able to feel. Use a mirror or the assistance of another person to see all parts of your feet.
    • Your doctor should look at your feet and test the feeling in them at least once a year. If you find a sore at any time, make an appointment to see your doctor right away.
    • People with diabetes may have toenails that are brittle and difficult to cut. You may also want to have a foot specialist trim your toenails regularly.
    • Buy properly fitted shoes. Some insurance companies will pay for custom-made shoes with inserts. A doctor can give you a prescription for the shoes.
    • Avoid smoking.
    • Talk to your doctor about exercise. Daily exercise will help to improve blood flow and blood glucose levels.
    • Calluses can increase the pressure on the foot and lead to foot ulcers. Have your foot doctor remove any calluses. This could reduce the risk of developing a foot ulcer.
    • Ask your doctor if you should use a special infrared thermometer. It can check the temperature of your feet.
    • Improved control of your diabetes may reduce the risk of ulcers.


    American Diabetes Association http://www.diabetes.org

    American Podiatric Medical Association http://www.apma.org


    Canadian Diabetes Association http://www.diabetes.ca

    Canadian Podiatric Medical Association http://www.podiatrycanada.org


    Andersen CA, Roukis TS. The diabetic foot. Surg Clin North Am. 2007;87(5):1149-1177.

    Bakker K, Apelqvist J, et al; International Working Group on Diabetic Foot Editorial Board. Practical guidelines on the management and prevention of the diabetic foot 2011. Diabetes Metab Res Rev. 2012;28 Suppl 1:225-231.

    Diabetic foot ulcer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114270/Diabetic-foot-ulcer. Updated August 26, 2016. Accessed September 26, 2016.

    Frykberg RG. Diabetic foot ulcers: pathogenesis and management. Am Fam Physician. 2002;66(9):1655-1662.

    Leung PC. Diabetic foot ulcers-a comprehensive review. Surgeon. 2007;5(4):219-231.

    Ndip A, Bowling F, et al. The diabetic foot in 2008: an update from the 12th Malvern Diabetic Foot Meeting. Int J Low Extrem Wounds. 2008;7(4):235-238.

    Nelson EA, O’Meara S, et al. A series of systematic reviews to inform a decision analysis for sampling and treating infected diabetic foot ulcers. Health Tech Assess. 2006;10(12):1-221.

    Nelson EA, O’Meara S, et al. Systematic review of antimicrobial treatments for diabetic foot ulcers. Diabet Med. 2006;23(4):348-359.

    Singh N, Armstrong DG, et al. Preventing foot ulcers in patients with diabetes. JAMA. 2005;293(2):217-228.

    2/7/2008 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114270/Diabetic-foot-ulcer: Armstrong DG, Holtz-Neiderer K, et al. Skin temperature monitoring reduces the risk for diabetic foot ulceration in high-risk patients. Am J Med. 2007;120(12):1042-1046.

    2/7/2008 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114270/Diabetic-foot-ulcer: Lavery LA, Higgins KR, et al. Home monitoring of foot skin temperatures to prevent ulceration. Diabetes Care. 2004;27(11):2642-2647.

    4/8/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114270/Diabetic-foot-ulcer: Löndahl M, Landin-Olsson M, Katzman P. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy improves health-related quality of life in patients with diabetes and chronic foot ulcer. Diabet Med. 2011;28(2):186-190.

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