What is a Diabetic Foot Ulcer?

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  • Written By: T. Broderick
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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A diabetic foot ulcer is a complication from diabetes that causes the majority of hospitalizations of diabetics. Upon discovery of a diabetic foot ulcer, a doctor performs a thorough examination to determine its severity. Amputation becomes a possibility if infection is present. After medical treatment, self care is crucial to recovery if a diabetic hopes to maintain the health of his or her feet.

Diabetes poses a significant risk to the legs and feet. High blood sugar causes neuropathy and damages the blood vessels. Insufficient blood flow is the primary cause of ulcers developing on the soles of the feet. Though an ulcer may start as a small annoyance, the body's inability to heal it makes a diabetic foot ulcer a breeding ground for infection. The majority of untreated ulcers lead to gangrene and necrosis.

One of the first things a doctor does when examining a diabetic foot ulcer is check for infection. Infection generally presents as inflammation. A doctor swabs the area to later grow a culture. Knowing the specific bacteria involved influences treatment. Finally, a doctor takes careful measurements of the ulcer; ulcers over an inch wide or deep threaten the foot and can make amputation unavoidable.


If amputation is not necessary, a doctor's primary goal is to close the ulcer. The ulcer's size, presence of infection and location on the foot all play a role in determining the best path toward recovery. Many doctors have recently begun using a standardized approach that has shown promise in allowing more diabetics to ultimately avoid amputation. Diabetics who develop foot ulcers should expect minor surgery to remove calloused tissue along with a recovery period that may involve special footwear, crutches and replacing bandages multiple times a day. A diabetic who does not follow his or her doctor's instructions puts the affected foot at risk for more ulcers.

Outside of treating an already existing diabetic foot ulcer, there are many ways diabetics can prevent future ulcers from causing complications. Eating a healthy diet, exercising and regularly checking blood sugar are the most important steps a diabetic can take to prevent ulcers and promote general good health. Specific actions include wearing therapeutic shoes that do no restrict blood flow. Regularly examining one's own feet gives a diabetic the opportunity to catch ulcers early and prevent infection. Ulcers are not completely unpreventable, but stopping them before they become a problem will result in a higher quality of life.



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