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Diabetes: Treating Severe Foot Infections

Uncontrolled diabetes and diabetes complications make it harder for the body to heal. Even minor foot problems can develop into serious infections. If not treated, infections can lead to amputation. In some cases, they can even become life-threatening. Prompt treatment by your doctor is needed to protect your foot and restore your health.

Man lying in hospital bed with dressing on foot. Health care provider is talking to him. Another health care provider is checking dressing on foot.

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In some cases, infections can spread through the feet and up the leg. To treat a severe infection, you may be hospitalized and given intravenous (IV) antibiotics. You may also be referred to health care providers who specialize in treating infections. If the infection is a serious risk to your health, surgery may be recommended.

The Goals of Surgery

The goal of surgery is to remove the infection and protect your foot or leg. Some surgeries remove a small amount of dead tissue from the infected area. In some cases, toes or larger amounts of tissue may be removed. Surgery may be done in a hospital or wound care facility. The length of your stay depends on the surgery and how well you’re healing. During recovery, you will likely need to limit activity for a while. You may also have visits from a home health care nurse. Be sure to see your doctor for follow-up appointments.

Wound Care

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

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

  • You may need IV (intravenous) antibiotics to help control the infection. Other medications may be used to help your foot heal more quickly.

  • A home care nurse may shorten your hospital stay by helping with your dressings or IV antibiotics at home.

  • If needed, your doctor may refer you to a wound care facility. These are medical facilities that specialize in treating ulcers and infections that are hard to heal. While you’re there, you may work with several kinds of doctors. You may also be given antibiotics or other medications that help fight infection. Part of your treatment also includes learning to care for the wound at home.

  • You may be told to keep your foot elevated as much as possible. You may also be told to avoid putting weight on the foot.


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