Avoiding foot wounds from diabetes

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Chamber check: In one of three pressurized hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers, certified wound center staff at Ingalls monitor patients as pure oxygen is dissolved into the bloodstream and carried to body tissues that need healing. | Supplied photo

Diabetes is a disease that is reaching epidemic proportions; approximately 26 million Americans have diabetes, and millions more are undiagnosed.

When uncontrolled, diabetes increases the risk for many serious health problems, including heart disease, eye and skin complications, and problems with the feet such as numbness — also known as neuropathy — and foot ulcers.

In fact, foot ulcers are the most common reason diabetics are hospitalized.

“Unfortunately, diabetic foot ulcers are often painless, so an individual with diabetes may not realize he or she has a problem until it becomes serious,” explained Bohdan Iwanetz, M.D., wound care-certified surgeon on staff at the Ingalls Hyperbaric & Wound Center.

As a result, it may take weeks or several months for foot ulcers to heal.

“Ulcers occur most often on the ball of the foot or on the bottom of the big toe,” added Dale Brink, D.P.M., wound care-certified podiatrist at Ingalls. “Ulcers on the sides of the foot are usually due to poor-fitting shoes. Even though some ulcers do not hurt, every ulcer should be seen by your health-care provider right away.”

Avoiding complications

The good news is that with the correct treatment and recommended lifestyle changes, many people with diabetes are able to avoid the most serious consequences of foot problems — severe infection and, in the most extreme cases, amputation of a limb.

At the Ingalls Hyperbaric and Wound Center, a multi-specialty staff, including physicians, podiatrists, nurses, technicians, physical therapists, dietitians, and orthotic specialists, has advanced training in wound care. Together, they work as a team to treat and manage wounds. Upon admission to the center, each patient receives a thorough assessment, a risk factor evaluation and education for wound care and prevention.

“Ingalls offers one of the most experienced wound treatment centers in the south suburbs,” Dr. Iwanetz said. “We have performed more than 15,000 treatments with a greater than 90 percent success rate for healing chronic and hard-to-heal wounds.”

Getting hyperbaric

If hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is needed, the main hospital campus in Harvey utilizes three hyperbaric oxygen chambers capable of treating up to 15 patients a day. Diabetic foot wounds are one of the most common conditions treated with hyperbaric therapy at Ingalls.

“HBOT was originally developed to treat divers experiencing disorders such as ‘the bends,’ or decompression sickness,” Dr. Iwanetz added.

Over time, HBOT has been more commonly used for a number of conditions such as carbon monoxide poisoning, smoke inhalation, and delayed radiation injury.

But wound-care specialists at Ingalls and other medical centers around the country have discovered that the treatment also works to heal difficult wounds like those that result from diabetes. Statistics reveal that 50 percent of all lower extremity amputations in the U.S. are due to diabetes. And many diabetics suffer circulatory disorders that create inadequate levels of oxygen to support healing of those wounds.

“Diabetic wound care is a major challenge,” Iwanetz explained. “The disease causes poor blood flow to the extremities. Increasing oxygenation through HBOT brings white blood cells to the wound and causes new blood vessels to grow in the area, which aids in healing.”

All patients who undergo HBOT treatment must be referred by a physician.

To increase awareness of diabetic foot ulcers and their treatment, Drs. Iwanetz and Brink are presenting Advanced Treatment of Diabetic Foot Ulcers from 6 to 7 p.m. Nov. 8 at the South Holland Recreation Center and from 6 to 7 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Ingalls Family Care Center in Flossmoor. Light refreshments will be provided, and both seminars are free of charge.

For more information or to register, call 708.915.2273 (CARE).

Provided by Debra Robbins, for Ingalls Health System