Diabetes impedes blood flow, damages nerves, and slows the body’s natural healing processes. Approximately 10% of people who are living with diabetes will eventually develop a foot ulcer. When conservative treatments fail to produce the desired results, skin grafts can help people with diabetic foot ulcers avoid infections that could lead to the need for amputation of the toes, foot, or lower leg.
Foot Ulcers Can Cause Serious Complications for People With Diabetes
In a person with diabetes, seemingly minor injuries such as a scape on the bottom of the foot or irritation from poorly fitting shoes can develop into a foot ulcer that is prone to infection. Daily foot checks are recommended for people with diabetes to ensure that ulcers are promptly treated before infections can develop. Foot ulcers can be serious even if they aren’t causing any pain or discomfort.
Your podiatrist can help you care for your foot ulcer by removing the dead skin, dressing the wound in a sterile bandage, and taking steps to remove pressure on the area while preventing further injury. You should never try to treat an ulcer at home by applying full-strength peroxide, soaking it in a whirlpool, or letting it air out. These practices can lead to further complications.
If your ulcer is not improving after about two months of basic treatment measures, your podiatrist may suggest a skin graft. Dermal skin grafts for diabetic ulcers close the wound to help it heal and prevent infection—much in the same way that skin grafts help burn victims heal from their injuries. Skin grafts recommended by your podiatrist will greatly reduce the risk that a foot ulcer will result in the need for amputation.
Types of Skin Grafts Used to Treat Diabetic Ulcers
There are four types of skin grafts:
- Autografts use skin obtained from the patient.
- Allografts use skin obtained from another person.
- Xenografts use skin from other species, such as pigs.
- Biosynthetic skin substitutes use cells grown in a lab.
Dr. Scudday performs biosynthetic skin grafts in his office. Also referred to as tissue-engineered skin substitutes, artificial skin, human skin equivalents, and skin alternatives, these skin grafts look similar to tissue paper at first glance. They support faster and more natural wound healing by reestablishing a moist wound environment that gives your body the tools and nutrients it needs to regenerate cellular tissue and repair itself.
What to Expect From a Biosynthetic Skin Graft
Bioengineered skin is composed of a dermal (inner) layer, an epidermal (outer) layer, or a combination of both layers embedded into a cellular or acellular matrix. The matrix is a support structure that is composed of materials such as collagen, hyaluronic acid, and fibronectin.
Here’s how biosynthetic skin grafts are used to treat foot ulcers:
- The wound is cleaned and debrided to remove dead skin.
- The biosynthetic skin graft is applied. The process is painless and doesn’t require any anesthesia. The graft readily adheres to the wound surface without requiring sutures.
- The area is covered in gauze to keep it clean. You may also be given a boot to wear to take pressure off the ulcer.
- Additional treatments are repeated as needed.
Healing time for a diabetic ulcer treated with a biosynthetic skin graft depends on factors such as wound size, location, and pressure applied from standing or walking. Healing may occur within a few weeks or require several months of recovery. You can speed up the process by carefully managing your blood glucose levels and following all of your podiatrist’s wound care recommendations.
In some cases, Dr. Scudday may recommend additional treatment to help prevent additional ulcers from occurring. For example, surgery to correct hammertoes or bunions might be required to keep you from developing another foot ulcer.
Do You Need the Help of an Experienced and Caring Podiatrist?
If you're experiencing any type of foot pain, you should speak with an experienced podiatrist as soon as possible. Please contact us online to schedule your appointment or call one of our convenient El Paso offices directly. To reach our Sierra Tower Building podiatrist office, please call 915.533.5151. You can find driving directions here. To reach our George Dieter Drive podiatry office, please call 915.856.3331. Driving directions are available here.