Sores or Cuts That Heal Slowly or Do Not Heal

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: October 2020.

Skin care is important for people with type 2 diabetes, and sores or cuts that heal slowly or do not heal are a common problem.

High blood glucose levels damage blood vessels throughout the body and cause poor circulation. This reduces blood flow to the skin and makes it weaker, which increases your risk of sores and cuts. Poor circulation also makes it harder for your body to heal itself, even with minor cuts, scrapes, and blisters.1,2

High blood glucose also weakens the body’s immune system. This can make it difficult for your body to heal burns, cuts, or sores. It also means that germs are more likely to get into your body, which puts you at greater risk for infections.1,2

Common sites of slow-healing wounds in people with diabetes include the feet and the mouth, especially the gums.

Foot ulcers and type 2 diabetes

Wounds or ulcers on the feet are common in people with diabetes. Studies have found that up to 34 percent of people with diabetes experience foot ulcers, and that foot ulcers are responsible for about 25 percent of hospital stays for people with diabetes.3

Neuropathy is one of the main causes of foot problems. A lack of blood flow to your legs and feet can make it hard for sores or blisters to heal. In some cases, this can cause infections that do not heal, which might lead to gangrene (the death of body tissue).4

Foot ulcers and gangrene that do not heal with treatment can lead to amputation of your toe, foot, or part of your leg. Studies show that diabetic foot ulcers account for about 66 percent of all non-traumatic (not the result of an accident or injury) amputations in the United States.3

Nerve damage from diabetes can also lead to changes in the shape of the feet, such as the condition Charcot’s foot. This condition causes bones in the feet and toes to shift or break, which forces the feet into an irregular shape.4

Bleeding of the gum, mouth sores, and type 2 diabetes

Uncontrolled high blood glucose levels can weaken the small blood vessels in the mouth. Glucose is also in your saliva (spit), and when levels are too high it encourages harmful bacteria to grow. Both of these issues can cause a number of mouth problems, including:5

  • Gingivitis – unhealthy or inflamed gums that may be red, swollen, or bleeding
  • Periodontitis – gum disease that can cause complications like red, swollen, and bleeding gums, as well as infections between the teeth and gums
  • Thrush (candidiasis) – fungus in the mouth that can cause patches and sores on the gums, tongue cheeks, or roof of the mouth
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia) – a lack of saliva, which can lead to cracked lips, mouth sores, or infection

Lowering your risk for sores or cuts

There are some simple things you can do to protect yourself from wounds. Controlling your blood glucose levels is the first and most important step to reducing your risk for cuts and sores on your skin, feet, and in your mouth.6

Foot and skin care tips

A healthy skin care routine can help prevent skin and foot problems that may lead to sores and cuts that are slow to heal.4,6

  • Make sure the water in your shower or bath is not too hot
  • Keep your skin clean and dry
  • Use mild soaps and shampoos when bathing/showering, and apply moisturizer cream afterward, while your skin is still moist. Do not put lotion between your toes, since extra moisture there can encourage fungal infections.
  • During cold, dry months, apply moisturizer to your skin more often. Bathing/showering less often and using a humidifier inside your home during these months are also helpful.
  • If you have cut, clean and cover it right away. Only use antibiotic creams or ointments if your doctor says they are safe to use.
  • Trim your toenails straight across. Have your doctor trim them if you are unable to.
  • Keep the blood flowing to your feet. Wiggle your toes and stretch your ankles throughout the day, and avoid tight socks or stockings.
  • Wear soft, covered footwear and change your socks every day. Check your feet each day for any changes.

If you have any skin or foot changes, a serious cut, burn, or signs of an infection, see your doctor right away.

Dental care tips

Good oral hygiene can keep your mouth healthy and reduce your risk for sores.5

  • If you smoke, stop smoking
  • Brush your teeth 2 times a day with fluoride toothpaste. Use a soft toothbrush, and change your toothbrush every 3 months.
  • Use floss to clean between your teeth at least 1 time a day
  • If you wear dentures, keep them clean and take them out each night. Get them adjusted if they feel loose or uncomfortable.
  • Drink plenty of water each day
  • See your dentist at least 2 times a year. Tell your dentist that you have diabetes and share information about your blood sugar levels

See your dentist right away if you have any symptoms of mouth problems.

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