Blood sugar affects more than your meter
When you have diabetes, your body doesn’t produce insulin or doesn’t use it properly. This makes it more difficult to control and manage your blood sugar. But there are a number of related health issues to watch out for, too.
Diabetes makes it harder for your body to heal itself, even with small wounds. This puts diabetic patients at risk for complications such as infections, which can require emergency medical treatment and, in severe cases, amputation.
Usually, the most troublesome wounds for diabetic patients are on the feet, because these injuries can go undetected for a while.
“Managing your diabetes means much more than just exercising and watching what you eat,” explained Dr. Edward Batzel, director of vascular surgery and medical director of Geisinger Community Medical Center’s Center for Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine. “Patients need to monitor their bodies for wounds and be sure they’re treated properly. Because of the effects of high blood glucose levels, diabetes patients are at risk for serious complications, even from small issues. Those with diabetes should make it a practice to inspect their shoes and feet every day; this can prevent future complications from diabetic wounds. If you notice any wounds that are getting worse or showing signs of infection, talk with a doctor immediately.”
Here are three reasons why diabetic wounds are slow to heal:
High blood sugar
Blood sugar is more than just a number on your glucose meter. It plays a part in your energy level, medical needs and also your body’s ability to heal injuries.
“The amount of glucose, or sugar, in your blood affects the body in many ways,” said Dr. Batzel. “High glucose levels can stiffen the blood vessels, making it harder for blood to flow. This means that nutrients and oxygen can’t reach cells, which makes it harder to repair wounds. In the long term, lack of oxygen can cause cells to die—eventually leading to possible necrosis and amputation.”
Keeping your blood sugar level stable can help wounds and injuries heal quicker.
Diabetes and high blood sugar can cause nerve damage called diabetic neuropathy. Neuropathy causes tingling and numbness, which makes it harder to feel if you’re injured.
For example, if you had something stuck in your shoe that was cutting your foot, you might not realize it. You could go a long time before noticing there was an issue because you wouldn’t feel pain.
Small wounds, like blisters, can go undetected for long periods of time, especially on the feet. Because the body is not able to repair itself as effectively, the wounds can get worse, eventually turning into more severe things like ulcers. Checking your body daily for any kinds of injuries is important for avoiding future complications.
Reduced immune system function
When you get a cut, your immune system is responsible for keeping germs and other foreign invaders out. If germs do get in the body, the immune system fights them off and stops infections.
When you have diabetes, though, your body produces enzymes and hormones that cause your immune system to be less effective. This can lead to more infections, causing diabetic wounds to take longer to heal and require medical attention.
“When diabetic patients get hurt, they need to monitor the wound and take care of it to avoid getting an infection or more severe condition like gangrene,” said Dr. Batzel. “Keeping the wound clean and dry is an important first step and good habits like eating well and getting enough sleep are necessary to help your immune system do its job, too. To help monitor the wound, wear white socks. This way you can see if there is any blood or discharge. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, talk to your doctor immediately.”
Understanding why wounds are slow to heal and closely monitoring your feet are important steps to preventing cuts and blisters. But they still happen sometimes. If you have a wound that hasn’t healed after four weeks, a wound care specialist at a Geisinger Wound Care Clinic can help. There are a number of ways slow-healing wounds can be treated, including removing dead or damaged tissue around the wound, compression therapy, orthotics or hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
“Hyperbaric oxygen therapy uses pure oxygen to help a wound heal,” said Dr. Batzel. “This oxygen, which is about three times greater than what we normally experience, helps wounds heal faster by allowing blood to carry oxygen through the body faster, stimulating cells and promoting healthy tissue growth.”
Vascular surgeon and wound care specialist Dr. Edward Batzel, MD, sees patients at GCMC’s Heart and Vascular Institute, and GCMC’s Center for Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine in Scranton. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Batzel, please call 844-703-4262 or visit Geisinger.org.