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Diabetic Skin Problems, Part 1

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD December 16, 2018

Introduction

Today we begin a discussion on diabetic skin problems.

Diabetic Skin Problems

If you are diabetic or caring for a diabetic, one of the things you’ve likely noticed is that the skin doesn’t always seem to look, feel or perform normally. Perhaps the first thing I’d want you to know as a means of understanding what’s going on is this combination of facts: the skin is the body’s largest organ and diabetics have issues with blood flow. Given all the area needing blood flow, it stands to reason that diabetics invariably would have skin problems.

diabetes skin problems foot ulcers

Skin Problems Cause Infections – and Amputations

On a practical level, appreciate that infections are the most common cause of death in diabetics. Even a small cut or scratch in this population can lead to loss of a limb if unrecognized and left untreated. Unfortunately, amputations among diabetics  happens all too often. Is it preventable? With 100% confidence, yes. You can sufficiently reduce your risk of this ever happening. That said, there’s a reality that approximately 1/3 of all diabetes will have some type of skin problem, ranging from eczema and other localized itching problems to infections, abscesses, and gangrene.

diabetic skin problems toe amputation

How Diabetic Skin Problems Develop

By now you are likely wondering two things: How does this happen, and how can I prevent/help this?

First, diabetics suffer from frequent and excessive urination from those high blood glucose levels. This can lead to dehydration. Dehydrated skin is dry, red and has a waxy appearance. It becomes cracked, itchy, easily injured, harder to heal and easier to infect. Remember how diabetics have problems with poor blood circulation? That reduces the bodies’ ability to fight infections. So the first course of action for diabetics (beyond understanding the risks) is to be diligent in preventing infection.

diabetic-amputation

I will dedicate a separate post to give you all the knowledge you need to prevent diabetic cuts, scratches and skin infections or to have them treated. In the meantime, the same rules apply to diabetics as they do to everyone else: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care. Diet and exercise can stave off the day when you’re fighting for your life because of a diabetic foot ulcer.

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