What is a diabetic foot ulcer and how can you avoid them?


A diabetic foot ulcer is an open wound or sore of the foot that has been unable to heal properly due to a diabetes condition. People with diabetes need to be very cautious about developing a foot ulcer as it can lead to more serious complications, including amputation.  

How does a diabetic foot ulcer form?  

A foot ulcer is an open wound that hasn’t healed properly, turning into a serious open sore that takes weeks or even months to heal. However, those with diabetes are more prone to developing one, due to peripheral diabetic neuropathy. 


Peripheral diabetic neuropathy causes a loss of sensation in the feet and lower limbs. This means that the pain receptors in the brain do not function as well as they should do, so when someone with diabetes develops a cut, blister or bruise on their feet or lower limbs, they don’t feel it and are unaware of potentially developing a diabetic foot ulcer.  




When damage occurs to the skin, the skin usually repairs itself quickly in order to heal and prevent infection. For those with diabetes though, this is more difficult, due to having high or fluctuating levels of blood sugar and being unable to produce insulin. This can cause nerve damage which affects the skin’s ability to repair itself, leading to what we call a “diabetic foot ulcer”.  

How many people develop a diabetic foot ulcer?  

Those with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are at risk of developing a diabetic foot ulcer. Approximately 15% of patients with diabetes develop a diabetic foot ulcer at some point in their lives. Of those who do develop a diabetic foot ulcer, 6% will be admitted to hospital due to an infection or other complications.  


Diabetic foot ulcer symptoms 

Diabetic foot ulcers will be obvious to spot on the feet as they are an open wound that hasn’t healed fully or properly. In the early stages, it may cause a burning sensation, itching or swelling. In the later stages, an infection will have developed that leaks pus and smells foul.  


What are the complications of a diabetic foot ulcer?  

The complications associated with a diabetic foot ulcer can become quite serious if left untreated. They may lead to:  

A skin infection  

You can spot a skin infection around the site of the wound. Infections usually smell unpleasant, leak pus and cause fever and chills  

An abscess forming  

An abscess is the result of an untreated skin infection. It causes a pus filled bubble to form under the surface of the skin and it can be quite painful.  


Sepsis is the result of a serious infection that has made its way into the bloodstream. Symptoms of sepsis include difficulty breathing, blotchy skin and acting dazed or confused.  

Sepsis is potentially life threatening, as it can cause the body’s immune system to overreact and damage the body’s internal organs.  

Charcot foot 

For people living with diabetes, over time the bones, muscles and joints in the feet may become weak and brittle, causing them to break or dislocate under minor weight, such as walking. Charcot foot can lead to serious foot deformities developing.  


An untreated diabetic foot ulcer can cause gangrene to develop, due to insufficient blood supply and oxygen to the infected area. Gangrene is the death of skin tissue, and is characterised by discoloration of the skin, usually black, loss of sensation in the area and discharge from the wound site.  


In the most serious of cases, diabetic foot ulcers may lead to foot amputation. This happens when the body is no longer responding to antibiotic treatments and severe infections are at risk of entering the bloodstream, which can cause organ failure and potentially lead to death. To prevent this from happening the severely infected area has to be amputated to stop the spread of infection.  


How to prevent a diabetic foot ulcer?  

Due to the severe risks that a diabetic foot ulcer can cause, steps should be taken in order to prevent them from ever occurring. Research shows that most diabetic foot ulcers are preventable with proper foot care and diabetic management.  


Some of the steps you can take which may prevent a diabetic foot ulcer, include:  

Maintain proper foot health  

Regularly maintaining your feet’s hygiene can help reduce the risk of diabetic foot ulcers. Ensure that you wash them daily, dry them thoroughly and wear clean, dry socks, as infections are more likely to develop in a warm and wet environment.  

Diabetic management  

Managing your diabetes condition correctly, can also help you to avoid foot ulcers. Ensure that you are eating the right foods in order to maintain blood sugar levels.  

Proper footwear  

Ensure that you wear appropriate footwear, that isn’t too constricting or tight on the feet. If your footwear is too tight, it can limit circulation and cause your feet to sweat a lot, which isn’t good for preventing infections.  

Maintain proper blood circulation  

You should go for daily walks or take up regular exercise in order to maintain proper levels of blood circulation. Maintaining a healthy weight and quitting smoking also helps to improve blood circulation. 

Take precautions 

In order to avoid any new injuries to the feet, no matter how minor, you should take precautions such as checking your shoes before you put them on for any sharp objects that may penetrate the skin. You should also avoid going barefoot, even in your own home in case you are exposed to potential cuts, nicks or scrapes.  

Regularly check your feet 

You should regularly check your feet in order to identify any new cuts, scrapes, blisters or foot issues that you need to be aware of.  

Schedule regular foot care appointments  

If you are diabetic, you should schedule regular foot care appointments with a podiatrist or health team in order to evaluate your foot health. If you have any calluses, corns, ingrown toenails, etc, do not attempt to remove them yourself, wait for a doctor or podiatrist to remove them for you.  

Avoiding a potential diabetic foot ulcer 

Diabetic foot ulcers can have devastating consequences, that’s why it’s so important to regularly check your feet and ensure that they are in optimal health. Take care of your feet, and if in doubt schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional, sooner rather than later.

Recent Posts