Sores or cuts that heal slowly or do not heal

High blood glucose can cause damage to the small vessels that supply blood to the skin throughout the body. This results in a weakening of the skin, increasing the risk for cuts or wounds and interfering with the body’s ability to heal these injuries. Additionally, poor blood circulation to the extremities (particularly the legs and feet) associated with peripheral vascular disease, which is a common complication of diabetes, can also negatively affect the body’s ability to heal wounds. Common sites of slow healing wounds in people with diabetes including the feet and the gums.1,2

Preventing foot ulcers

Wounds or ulcers on the feet are particularly common in people with diabetes, especially those who have nerve damage that affects normal sensation in the feet. The first and most important step you can take to lowering your risk for slow healing ulcers on your feet is to keep your blood glucose under control. Uncontrolled high blood glucose can actually result in an increase in fungi and bacteria on the feet. Extra glucose serves as a source of food for these organisms. Proliferation of fungi and bacteria can contribute to a breakdown of the skin and can interfere with the body’s ability to heal ulcers.3

In addition to controlling your blood glucose, other steps you can take to prevent wounds on your feet include, avoiding soaking your feet, not walking barefoot, being careful to prevent burns on your feet from heating pads or water that is too hot, trimming toe nails to remove sharp edges, inspecting your feet daily, washing your feet daily, and wearing loose-fitting cotton socks and shoes that fit you correctly.2,3

Learn more about diabetes-related foot complications and how I can prevent them.

Bleeding of the gums

Uncontrolled high blood glucose can weaken the small blood vessels of the mouth, resulting in gums that bleed and slow-healing wounds in the mouth. If these symptoms persist for a long time, they can lead to gum disease, resulting in recession of gums and, eventually, loss of teeth. Additionally, people with diabetes are at increased risk for a condition called dry mouth (the medical term is xerostomia). Oral health depend on a normal amount of saliva production for protection against cavities and oral infections. Therefore, xerostomia can increase the risk of oral infections (fungal and bacterial), especially where gum problems and wounds are already present.1

If you have diabetes, you are at increased risk for slow-healing wounds in the mouth and bleeding gums. Therefore, you must be particularly careful about oral hygiene (flossing and brushing) and getting your teeth cleaned regularly. You should have a check-up and cleaning every 3 to 6 months. Talk to your dentist about the best way to prevent gum disease.

Learn more about diabetes-related gum disease.

Skin care precautions you should take
If you have diabetes, your risk for slow healing sores or cuts is higher than in people without diabetes. Therefore, you should be proactive in taking care of your skin, by building healthy skin care activities into your regular routine. You should1:

  • Make sure the water in your shower or bath is not too hot
  • Use a mild soap when bathing and apply moisturizer cream after you bath, while your skin is still moist
  • Make sure to dry your skin carefully after bathing, applying talc or antifungal powder to areas where skin is folded (underarms, groin, between toes, under breasts) and can remain wet or moist
  •  If you have a cut, clean it, apply an antibiotic ointment, and dress it immediately. If you have a serious cut, burn, or the signs of an infection (pain, swelling, redness), see your doctor immediately.

Importance of blood glucose control

Regardless of whether you have been diagnosed with diabetes or not, if you have a cut or sore that is slow to heal, you should see your doctor immediately. Your doctor will evaluate you and identify the cause of the problem. As part of this evaluation, your doctor will measure your blood glucose to determine if it is high and whether you may have diabetes.

If you have diabetes, controlling your blood glucose is an important part of reducing your risk for complications, including cuts and sores that are slow to heal. Your doctor will work with you to help you control your blood glucose, using lifestyle modifications, including a healthy, calorie-appropriate eating plan, regular physical activity, and weight loss, and, if these modifications are not enough, medication.

Learn more about lifestyle modifications that I can use to help control my blood glucose.

Learn more about medications that I can use to help control my blood glucose

Written by: Jonathan Simmons | Last reviewed: May 2014.
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