Diabetes is a condition where the body cannot use blood sugar effectively. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, an estimated 18 million Americans are known to have diabetes, and in 5.2 million the condition is undiagnosed.
Patients with diabetes will often find themselves needing surgery for one reason or another. Whether it’s an elective procedure or an emergency surgery, your diabetes affects the way your body protects itself and heals in several ways. Strict control of blood sugar levels are a crucial part of the post-operative course, especially when it comes to healing of the surgical wound. The following are just some of the ways that uncontrolled diabetes can delay wound healing:
Poor Circulation: Arteries play a major role in the circulatory system by carrying blood pumped by the heart to the rest of the body. High blood glucose levels stiffen the arteries and cause narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels leading to decreased blood flow. With decreased blood flow the body’s ability to get oxygen and nutrients to the site of the wound is also decreased. A wound that is not receiving the necessary amount of blood flow, oxygen, and nutrients that it should will exhibit a delay in the healing process.
Nerve damage: Long standing, uncontrolled diabetes affects the nerves and their functioning. Most commonly, the result is a loss of sensation—a condition referred to as diabetic neuropathy. Sensation is one of the most effective ways our bodies let us know when something is not right. Through the feeling of pain we may discover the presence of infection, blistering, or opening of a surgical wound. In diabetics with nerve damage, this sensation is lost and as a result these potential problems may go undetected. This can lead to a neglected wound, delays in treatment and prolonged wound healing.
Impairment of the Immune System: Diabetes reduces the body’s natural ability to fight infections. Increased blood sugar levels cause dysfunction of immune cells. As a result, minor infections may turn into major problems and smaller wounds may become large defects due to a breakdown in the healing process.
What you can do to improve wound healing Wound healing in diabetic patients can often be a long and challenging endeavor. The key to promoting healthy wound healing and preventing diabetes related wound complications is to keep your blood sugar levels under control. Other medical conditions such as high blood pressure or cholesterol should also be controlled if present. Maintaining a healthy diet, a consistent exercise routine and frequent monitoring of the surgical wound are all effective ways of managing blood glucose levels and providing the necessary nutrients required for wound healing.
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