When you have diabetes, a small scrape or cut can turn into a big problem. A wound may take a long time to heal. Even worse, it may become infected. The results of a recent study reinforce just how important good blood sugar control is for proper wound healing.
In the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, researchers looked at the surgical outcomes of 79 adults treated for a chronic wound. Seventy-two percent of the study participants had diabetes. Most of them had surgery for an open wound on their legs or feet.
Researchers recorded each participant's blood sugar levels before and after surgery. Those with high glucose levels at any time during the study tended to fare worse after their operation. Their wounds often didn't heal properly. They were also more likely to need another surgery to close their wounds. Plus, they were slightly more likely to develop an infection.
Diabetes slows wound healing in several ways. First, high blood sugar levels allow bacteria to grow more easily in your body. As a result, you can quickly develop an infected wound.
Poor blood circulation plays a part, too. Diabetes hardens and narrows blood vessels throughout your body, but mainly in your legs and feet. Without adequate blood flow, your skin can't heal properly. Wounds that take a long time to heal can easily become infected.
The longer you have diabetes, the more likely you are to also develop diabetic neuropathy. This nerve damage causes a loss of feeling, especially in your feet. Unable to feel pain, you may not notice a blister, callus, or cut right away. Not promptly caring for a wound can lead to infection.
You can't avoid the occasional scrape, scratch, or cut. But keeping your blood sugar in a healthy range can help prevent many wound complications. You can also stay healthy by not smoking and by managing high blood pressure, if needed.
Preventing an infection starts with proper wound care. If you suffer a minor cut or scrape, follow these steps:
Rinse the wound with cool water.
Use a soft cloth and mild soap to clean the area around the wound. To avoid irritation, don’t put soap directly on the wound.
Carefully remove any dirt with a pair of tweezers. Be sure to first clean the tweezers with rubbing alcohol.
Apply antibiotic ointment and a nonstick gauze pad or adhesive strip.
Change the bandage daily.
Watch for these signs of infection: red or swollen skin around the wound, discharge, a foul odor, or fever. Call you doctor right way if you think you may have an infection.
People with diabetes are prone to foot ulcers—a leading cause of amputation. Here are tips on preventing these chronic wounds.