June 4-8 is Wound Care Awareness Week — a time when the healthcare community raises awareness of the 6.7 million Americans who suffer from chronic wounds that do not heal for months or even years due to conditions like diabetes that make it harder for wounds to heal.
Osvaldo Gonzalez, MD, an endocrinologist with Adventist HealthCare Adventist Medical Group who specializes in diabetes care and healing chronic wounds, answers our questions. He’s a member of the team at the Adventist HealthCare Centers for Advanced Wound Care & Hyperbaric Medicine at Washington Adventist Hospital.
How common are chronic wounds for people with diabetes?
Dr. Gonzalez: Chronic wounds become quite common in people who have had uncontrolled diabetes — meaning not treated properly — for more than 10 years.
Why do people with diabetes have to be more aware of potential wounds?
Dr. Gonzalez: Due to nerve damage and poor circulation in the extremities, diabetes patients are more likely to develop non-healing wounds. That lack of sensation and poor circulation lead to more tissue damage and delayed healing. This is particularly common on the feet since all of our weight is supported by a relatively small area, creating the potential for pressure points that become wounds.
What should people with diabetes check for in terms of wounds?
Dr. Gonzalez: People with diabetes should check their skin, particularly their feet, for calluses, changes in skin color, fungus infection and skin breakdown.
What might happen if a chronic wound goes untreated?
Dr. Gonzalez: A wound that goes without proper treatment will progress, potentially leading to infection in the surrounding soft tissues and bones. This could even lead to amputation in serious cases.
What are some ways for people with diabetes to protect themselves from wounds and prevent amputation?
Dr. Gonzalez: It is important for people with diabetes to control their blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels by taking the proper medications and following a low-starch diet as recommended by their doctor. Appropriate footwear and custom inserts for people with foot problem are also critical. Additionally, people with diabetes should not walk barefoot to prevent injury.
If someone notices a wound or cut that looks abnormal, at what point should they call the doctor?
Dr. Gonzalez: If you sustain an injury, the first step is to remove any foreign object and wash the area with plenty of water. If the wound looks severe — for instance is very deep or will not stop bleeding — you should seek immediate medical attention. People with poor circulation or loss of sensation should also see a doctor immediately.
If you have developed a wound that does not heal in 30 days, you may require treatment at a comprehensive wound care center. Our team of physicians and nurses provide state-of-the-art treatments including debridement, hyberbaric oxygen therapy, dressing selection, special shoes and patient education.