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Foot Ulcers: Why do they happen? Could you be at risk?

Dr. Akin-Onitolo A.

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Having a wound, preferably called an ulcer, on your foot can be a painful experience that can quickly worsen if not promptly and adequately managed. Especially if you have Diabetes or smoke heavily, both conditions make healing slower than normal, here are a couple of things you should know: 

  1. Foot ulcers are often caused by either of two things: loss of blood or nervous supply to the foot or both. Blood supply can be lost when arteries in the leg become blocked/narrowed with fatty deposits like can also occur in people with fatty or blood vessel diseases. And nervous supply is lost as high amounts of blood sugar cause damage to nerves. This is why controlling your blood sugar is important. When nervous supply is absent, you can no longer feel your foot and may not realize when you step on a sharp object and develop an injury. Usually, the ulcers are not painful and look like a small crater punched out on the underside of the foot like the type alien ships create when they crashland in sci-fi movies. There may be a lot of hardened skin around it
  2. The ulcer may get infected which will further make it not to heal. It can lead to destruction of joints (the connection between two bones) in the foot from infection spread. This is a cause of deformity as it becomes a difficulty walking 
  3. See your healthcare provider or podiatrist (or chiropodist mentioned in an earlier article) as soon as possible who would start treatment immediately in order to prevent infection and help the ulcer heal 
  4. Treatment involves improving blood sugar control, dressing the ulcer regularly, removing any hard skin that slows healing, antibiotic use if infected, providing special shoes, pain relief if there is associated pain, minimal surgery if there is pus collection or spreading infection 
  5. Advanced treatment to remove the cause of the ulcer in the first place might include surgery to open up or create a bypass for blocked blood vessels 
  6. Healing foot ulcers can take some time so it’s advisable not to have them at all. The best protection includes keeping your blood sugar normal and regularly caring for your feet 

Sometimes, the ulcer may get worse if wrongly managed and some of the tissues in the foot do not survive. At such times, surgery to remove the affected part will be necessary.

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Dr. Akin-onitolo A. is a graduate of the University of Lagos whose mission is to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) using health promotion and improved health literacy. She is an MDCN (Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria) certified doctor who had her elective at King's College London. Hugely interested in travel, meeting people and generally being creative, reading and writing fiction are a few hobbies you could find her engaged in during her spare time. Catch up with her on Twitter @Akinonitolo and Instagram @t_onitolo

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