Treatment of diabetic foot ulcers

S Vuorisalo, M Venermo, M Lepäntalo
Journal of Cardiovascular Surgery 2009, 50 (3): 275-91
Diabetic foot ulcers are a major health care problem. Complications of foot ulcers are a leading cause of hospitalization and amputation in diabetic patients. Diabetic ulcers result from neuropathy or ischemia. Neuropathy is characterized by loss of protective sensation and biomechanical abnormalities. Lack of protective sensation allows ulceration in areas of high pressure. Autonomic neuropathy causes dryness of the skin by decreased sweating and therefore vulnerability of the skin to break down. Ischemia is caused by peripheral arterial disease, not by microangiopathy. Poor arterial inflow decreases blood supply to ulcer area and is associated with reduced oxygenation, nutrition and ulcer healing. Necrotic tissue is laden with bacteria apt to grow in such an environment, which also impairs general defence mechanisms against infection. Infections often complicate existing ulcers, but are seldom the cause for ulcers. Protective footwear helps to reduce ulceration in diabetic feet at risk. Relieving pressure on the ulcer area is necessary to allow healing. Blood supply needs to be improved by revascularisation whenever compromised. Systemic antibiotics are helpful in treating acute foot infections, but not uninfected ulcers. Osteomyelitis may underlie a diabetic ulcer and is often treated by resection of the infected bone and always by antibiotics, the mode and length of treatment depending on the adequacy of the debridement. The aim of ulcer bed preparation is to convert the molecular and cellular environment of the chronic ulcer to that of an acute healing wound by debridement, irrigating and cleaning. Moist dressings maintain wound environment favorable for healing. All attempts should be done to prevent diabetic foot ulceration and treat existing ulcers by multidisciplinary teams in order to decrease amputations. Indeed, improvement in ulcer healing has been observed with primary healing rates of 65-85% in mixed series. Even when healed, diabetic foot should be regarded as a life-long condition and treated accordingly to prevent recurrence. Long-term efforts have reduced amputation 37-75% in different European countries over 10-15 years.

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