You can help prevent complications from diabetic foot ulcers

A patient receives treatment for a diabetic ulcer on their foot.

Foot ulcers are a common cause of hospitalization for those living with diabetes. Find out ways to identify and prevent them from turning into a serious concern.

If you’re caring for someone living with diabetes, you may be concerned about the possibility of diabetic foot ulcers. A common cause of hospitalization for diabetics, foot ulcers can quickly develop from a small sore and lead to complications such as infection, hospitalization and even amputation.1

Foot ulcers are breaks or sore spots in the skin that are slow to heal. They’re often found on the bottom of the feet around the ball or on the big toe, but can also appear on the tops of feet or around the ankles and lower legs.2

Ulcers may progress along a range of stages, starting with small, red painful sores that don’t break the skin and worsening into deep, open sores that can eventually expose muscle, tendon and even bone.3

When caring for people living with diabetes, you must pay very close attention to their feet and seek medical attention for foot wounds with any of the following signs4:

  • Reddening
  • Warm, swollen discoloration
  • Blistering, cracks or peeling
  • Pus, discharge or blood
  • Tenderness or pain
  • Thickness or callouses
  • Accompanying fever or chills

Foot ulcers can become dangerous very rapidly for people living with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes because of poor blood flow or circulation to the feet and fewer white blood cells for healing.5 Reduced feeling or numbness in the feet due to limited nerve function can also keep a person living with diabetes from noticing when a painful sore is forming.6

According to Medscape7, around one in twenty people living with diabetes will have a foot ulcer in their lifetime. It’s important to not ignore early warning signs or small wounds. They may seem harmless, but if untreated,these ulcers can lead to serious complications, including infection, hospitalization and even amputation.8

Whenever a wound or suspicious sore is found on the foot of a person living with diabetes, their doctor or podiatrist should be consulted immediately.

Proper foot care—including daily checks—can help reduce the risk of serious illness or amputation

As a caregiver, there’s a lot you can do to help people living with diabetes avoid foot ulcers or prevent them from becoming more serious.

Daily foot checks are an essential part of preventive care. According to the American Diabetes Association9 and International Journal of Preventive Medicine10, that includes:

  • Checking the feet and lower legs daily for cuts, cracks or red spot
  • Washing the feet daily with gentle soap and water and drying them thoroughly and carefully, especially between the toes to prevent fungal infections
  • Applying moisturizers like coconut oil to keep the skin soft and smooth (but not between the toes
  • Keeping the toenails trimmed with straight (not rounded) cuts and filed edges
  • Avoiding putting chemical substances or commercial pads on the feet and treating cuts or scrapes with hot soaks, hydrogen peroxide or iodine--a topical antibiotic should be used instead
  • Having them wear clean socks and properly fitted shoes (or custom diabetic shoes) with smooth linings free of outside objects

You can also help reduce a person living with diabetes’ risk of foot ulcers by:

  • Helping them monitor blood glucose levels with A1C testing as recommended
  • Making sure they take medications as prescribed
  • Scheduling checkups with a doctor or podiatrist as necessary and following the physician’s instructions

Never let foot wounds go untreated

Most importantly, don’t ever wait for a foot wound to “just go away.” If the person under your care has a new foot wound or an existing sore that begins to look different, feel different or worsen, take them to a doctor or podiatrist immediately.

Even a small wound that seems harmless can grow serious very quickly. The infection or ulceration of a foot wound can progress dangerously fast, sometimes leading to amputation or other damage in just a few weeks.


  1. Tanzim Khan, “Diabetic Foot Ulcers,” Medscape, last accessed January 29, 2021,, opens new window.
  2. “Diabetic Foot Problems,” WebMD, last accessed January 29, 2021,, opens new window.
  3. “Diabetic Foot Problems.”
  4. Peter Watkins, “The Diabetic Foot,” BMJ, 2003 May 3; 326(7396): 977–979, doi: 10.1136/bmj.326.7396.977,, opens new window.
  5. “Diabetes and Wounds: Caring for Sores,” WebMD, last accessed January 29, 2021,, opens new window.
  6. “Diabetic Wound Care,” American Podiatric Medical Association, last accessed January 29, 2021,, opens new window.
  7. “Diabetic Foot Ulcers.”
  8. “Diabetic Wound Care.”
  9. “Diabetic Wound Care.”
  10. Bijan Iraj, Fariborz Khorvash, Alireza Ebneshahidi, and Gholamreza Askari, “Prevention of Diabetic Foot Ulcer,” Int J Prev Med. 2013 Mar; 4(3): 373–376, last accessed January 29, 2021,, opens new window.