Treating and Preventing Diabetic Leg and Foot Sores that Won’t Heal

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Medical conditions that impair circulation-including diabetes-are the most common cause of nonhealing leg and foot sores. In people with diabetes, these sores are also known as neuropathic diabetic ulcers. In an article in The New England Journal of Medicine last October, experts evaluated the latest approaches to managing these ulcers. Here’s what you need to know about their causes and treatment.

Neuropathic diabetic ulcers

What to look for: These deep sores are typically a consequence of neuropathy (nerve damage) from diabetes. Because people with neuropathy lose feeling in their lower extremities, they may injure their feet without realizing it, leading to neglected sores. These ulcers usually occur along the bottom of the feet, especially on pressure points such as the heel. Surrounding skin is often dry, cracked, and callused. Diabetes can also lead to peripheral arterial disease (PAD), which slows the healing of wounds that can quickly enlarge and become infected. Roughly half of people with diabetes who see their doctor about a foot or leg sore turn out to have an infected ulcer. Infections require intensive treatment, and in some cases, toe or foot amputation.

How they’re treated: Managing blood sugar levels is crucial. Taking pressure off the affected area can also help. Medications called topical growth factors might also promote healing.

An ounce of prevention

There’s plenty you can do to lower your risk of developing foot or leg sores:

  • If you have diabetes, be meticulous about your foot care. Inspect your feet daily for cuts, red spots, or signs of swelling.
  • Lose excess weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of foot and leg ulcers. Talk with your doctor about the best weight-loss approach for you.
  • Be as active as possible and follow a healthy diet. Regular exercise and a diet abundant in vegetables, fruit, nuts, and whole grains can help improve circulation.
  • If you smoke, resolve to quit. Your doctor can help recommend the most effective strategies to kick the habit.