Getting cuts, scrapes, and abrasions on your skin is a normal and often unavoidable part of life. For most people, getting a minor wound means keeping it clean, slapping on a bandaid, and waiting a couple of days for it to heal.
However, for people living with diabetes, even a minor cut or scrape can take weeks or months to heal, which can increase the risk of complications, such as infection which could lead to amputation. Research suggests that several diabetes-related factors can delay and impair the healing process.
Learning about the relationship between diabetes and wound healing can help you understand how to best care for your skin and prevent future health complications.
Diabetes and Foot Ulcers
Skin complications are common in people living with diabetes. In fact, skin issues are often early signs of diabetes. Although cuts, scrapes, and abrasions can occur anywhere on your body, chronic skin ulcerations of the lower extremities, particularly the feet, are common in people living with diabetes. Diabetic foot ulcers are open sores or wounds on the feet that won’t heal or keep coming back over a long period of time. Most commonly, they occur on the bottom of the foot.
- Diabetic foot ulcers affect approximately 15% of people living with diabetes.
- An estimated 50-60% of foot ulcers develop an infection, significantly increasing the risk of lower extremity amputation.
- Among moderate-to-severe diabetes-related foot infections, 20% result in amputation.
- While it’s recommended to get your feet checked annually by your doctor, people with type 2 diabetes should be checking feet on a daily basis.
Diabetes and Wound Healing
So, why is it that wounds are often slow to heal in people living with diabetes? Although the precise mechanisms linking diabetes and wound healing are not fully understood, research suggests several diabetes-related factors can contribute to delayed and impaired wound healing. Many of these factors are related to high blood glucose levels (hyperglycemia).
Hyperglycemia is associated with stiff blood vessels, which can cause poor circulation and reduced blood flow to the extremities. The oxygen and nutrients carried by the blood are essential to wound healing. With reduced blood flow, the wound may not receive adequate oxygen and nutrients, causing the wound to take longer to heal. Hyperglycemia can also interfere with the body’s immune and inflammatory responses, further contributing to delayed and slowed wound healing.
The wound-healing process consists of four phases:
Diabetes can impair each phase of the healing process which ultimately causes delayed wound healing.
Other factors, such as peripheral neuropathy, can prevent you from catching injuries and sores when they occur. Peripheral neuropathy, the most common type of diabetic neuropathy, can cause tingling, pain, or numbness in the feet, legs, hands, and arms. In the case of numbness, you might not notice when an injury or trauma occurs. This is why diabetes experts typically recommend that you perform daily inspections of your feet to check for cuts, sores, redness, and blisters.
What You Can Do
Although there is a connection between diabetes and wound healing, emerging research suggests that having diabetes doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll experience impaired wound healing and develop ulcers.
Strong glycemic control is essential for preventing many diabetes-related complications. Early research suggests that glycemic control may also be important for speeding up wound healing in people living with diabetes.
Here are some tips that can help you keep your blood glucose levels on track to aid in wound healing:
- Keep a close eye on your blood glucose levels. If you struggle to test as often as your healthcare team recommends, you may consider using an automatic blood glucose monitor (ABGM), like the POGO Automatic® Monitor, which allows for lancing and blood collection in a single step.
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Food and beverages are among the top factors that affect blood glucose levels.
- Exercise regularly. The American Diabetes Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
- Adhere to your medication regimen. If you are prescribed insulin or other blood glucose-lowering medication, timing your meals and insulin/medication properly is key to keeping your blood glucose levels in your target range. #GoodtoPOGO
Robert Miller is a customer experience specialist committed to helping people navigate the world of diabetes. He focuses on finding innovative tools and strategies that make diabetes management easier to support long-term wellness.
All content on this website is for educational purposes only and does not replace the guidance of your healthcare practitioner. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.
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