You may be familiar with diabetic foot ulcers, but you might not be aware that diabetes also dramatically increases your risk of developing leg ulcers.
Whether they appear in your foot or leg, ulcers are open wounds that keep enlarging. Without medical treatment, ulcers often cause severe infections and tissue death that can lead to amputation.
As a vascular specialist, Kishore K. Arcot, MD, at Memphis Vein Center offers comprehensive care for leg ulcers. He treats the underlying disease, provides intensive wound care, and helps you regain optimal health and wellness.
Complications of high blood sugar
Your body carefully regulates blood sugar (glucose), keeping its levels in a specific range. This control is essential for your health, because serious problems develop when blood sugar falls below or rises above the healthy range.
Diabetes is the primary cause of high blood sugar, a problem that stems from two conditions.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when an autoimmune disease damages the pancreas. As a result, it can’t release insulin, the hormone responsible for lowering blood sugar when it gets too high.
Type 2 diabetes develops when your body can’t use the insulin released by your pancreas. Insulin normally moves sugar out of the bloodstream by carrying it into cells, where it’s used for energy.
If you have Type 2 diabetes, the cells become resistant to insulin and stop accepting sugar, leaving it to build up in your bloodstream.
High blood sugar damages blood vessels and nerves (neuropathy). As a result, diabetes leads to many possible complications, including:
- High blood pressure
- Coronary artery disease
- Peripheral artery disease
- Congestive heart failure
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Chronic kidney disease (diabetic nephropathy)
- Vision loss (diabetic retinopathy)
Foot and leg ulcers are among the most common diabetes complications.
Connection between diabetes and leg ulcers
Here’s how diabetes directly causes ulcers:
Diabetic nerve damage first appears in your feet. Most people experience tingling and pain in the early stages of neuropathy. As the nerve damage progresses, you lose sensation, and numbness sets in.
Without sensation, you can’t feel blisters, abrasions, cuts, and other small wounds. If you can’t feel them, chances are you won’t treat them, and then they turn into diabetic foot ulcers.
Blood vessel damage
Diabetes causes two different artery problems. First, high blood sugar damages small arteries in your feet. As a result, they can’t deliver the blood needed for healing, allowing tiny cuts and abrasions to quickly become foot ulcers.
The second vascular problem that high blood sugar causes is peripheral artery disease (PAD). High blood sugar promotes and accelerates PAD, a condition that occurs when cholesterol builds up in an artery in your lower leg.
As PAD progressively worsens and the plaque enlarges, it blocks the blood flow to your lower leg. Without blood, tissues die and an ulcer develops. Arterial ulcers typically occur in your lower leg and around your ankle, but they may also appear in your foot.
Why ulcers are dangerous
Why are diabetic ulcers so dangerous? Because they don’t heal on their own. These ulcers keep expanding, causing significant damage to the tissues.
Without wound care, ulcers in your legs and feet lead to skin and bone infections and gangrene. This is why diabetes is the top cause of lower leg and foot amputations. In fact, 54% of all amputations are the result of diabetes and peripheral artery disease.
When to seek help
You may notice signs that appear before an ulcer. For example, people with PAD often have leg pain when walking, and you may notice changes in skin color in the area where an ulcer is about to appear. And if you have diabetes, a cut or bruise on your foot is a warning sign.
As soon as you notice a sign or see an ulcer appear, seek medical care. Call us at the Memphis Vein Center in Memphis, Tennessee, or request an appointment here.