How to Identify a Foot Ulcer

Do you know how to identify a foot ulcer?

A foot ulcer is an open sore on the foot that can potentially develop into a more serious wound if left untreated.

These ulcers typically take the form of a shallow red crater that involves only the surface skin. In some cases, however, a deep foot ulcer may lead to the formation of a crater that extends through the full thickness of the skin that may involve tendons, bones and other deep structures.

If you suffer from poor circulation due to chronic condition such as diabetes, then you are more likely to develop foot ulcers. In people with these conditions, even a small foot ulcer can become infected if it does not heal quickly.

About 15 percent of all people with diabetes will develop a foot ulcer at some point in their lives.

Who is at risk for foot ulcers?

Although foot ulcers can affect anyone, they are especially common in people who have one or more of the following health problems:

  • Peripheral neuropathy: This is a condition that affects the normal activity of the nerves that connect the central nervous system — the brain and spinal cord — to the rest of the body. Diabetes – both Type 1 and Type 2 — is the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy. When nerves in the feet are damaged, they can no longer warn about pain or discomfort, which allows normal wounds to develop into painful ulcers.
  •  Circulatory problems: Any illness that decreases circulation to the feet can cause foot ulcers. Less blood reaches the feet, which deprives cells of oxygen, thus making the skin more vulnerable to injury and slowing the foot’s ability to heal.
  •  Foot Abnormalities: Any condition that distorts the normal anatomy of the foot can lead to foot ulcers. This is particularly true if the foot is forced into shoes that don’t fit the foot’s altered shape, such as high heels.

How to Identify A Foot Ulcer

A foot ulcer looks like a red crater in the skin, most commonly found on the ball of the foot or under the big toe. This round crater is often surrounded by a border of thickened, callused skin. In severe cases, the crater may be deep enough to expose tendons or bones. If the sore becomes infected, you will see pus and smell a bad odor.

If the nerves in the foot are functioning normally, then the ulcer will be painful. If you are suffering from conditions such as diabetic neuropathy, however, then the ulcer may be able to grow unnoticed. For this reason, it is important to seek out a podiatrist for frequent foot exams to avoid future problems.

If an infection occurs in an ulcer and is not treated right away, it can develop into:

  •  An abscess.
  • A spreading infection of the skin and underlying fat.
  • A bone infection.
  • Gangrene.

When is it time to see a doctor?

A foot ulcer can be treatable when caught early. It is important to see a doctor right away if you develop a sore on your foot in order to ensure that you get the proper treatment and care. The longer you put off seeing a doctor, the more likely you are to put yourself at risk for a more serious infection.

In most cases, a doctor will be able to confirm whether or not you have an ulcer simply by looking at your foot.

After the initial diagnosis, the doctor will likely perform several tests to better understand the extent of the ulcer and to determine whether it is infected.

When your ulcers heal, it’s important to stay off your feet and follow the treatment plan that you and your doctor have decided on.

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