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Diabetes: Treating Severe Foot Infections

Poorly controlled diabetes and its complications make it hard for the body to heal. Even small foot problems can turn into bad infections. If not treated, they can lead to loss of a foot. Sometimes they can even become life-threatening. Quick care by your healthcare provider is needed to protect your foot.

Closeup of healthcare provider examining man's foot.

Get treatment

Sometimes infections can spread through the feet and up the leg. To treat a bad infection, you may need to stay in the hospital. There, you may get antibiotics through an IV (intravenous) line. You may also be sent to a healthcare provider who specializes in caring for infections. If the infection is a serious risk to your health, you may need surgery.

The goals of surgery

Surgery is done to remove the infection and protect your foot or leg. Your surgeon may take a small amount of dead tissue from the infected area. Sometimes they may need to remove toes or larger amounts of tissue. Surgery to fix or bypass arteries that have been damaged by diabetes may be helpful. This can bring more blood to the infected area. You may have surgery in a hospital or wound care facility. You may need blood tests, X-rays, MRI, or other tests. These may be done to see if underlying bone is also infected.

The length of your hospital stay depends on the surgery. And also on how well you’re healing. While you're healing, you'll likely need to limit activity for a while. Once you're back home, you'll likely have visits from a home care nurse. Follow all instructions. And see your provider for checkups.

Wound care

These tips may help you care for your wound:

  • Regular wound care after surgery helps keep your foot free of infection. It also aids healing.

  • Change your dressing every 6 hours, or as directed by your provider.

  • You may need IV antibiotics to help control the infection. Other medicines may be used to help your foot heal faster. Take these as prescribed.

  • Do what you can to keep your blood sugar within your target range. This will also help wound healing. The physical and emotional stress of a wound may cause changes in your blood sugar. If you have trouble with blood sugar control, call your provider.

  • A home care nurse may help with your dressings or IV antibiotics at home.

  • If needed, your provider may send you to a wound care facility. They specialize in treating ulcers and infections that are hard to heal. You may also be given antibiotics or other medicines that help fight infection. You'll also learn how to care for the wound at home.

  • You may be told to keep your foot raised as much as possible to reduce swelling. Swelling slows wound healing. You may also be told to not put weight on the foot.

Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Hurd MD
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2021
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