Treatment of diabetic foot ulcer: an overview strategies for clinical approach

Curr Diabetes Rev. 2006 Nov;2(4):431-47. doi: 10.2174/1573399810602040431.


Diabetic foot disease is a major health problem, which concerns 15% of the 200 million patients with diabetes worldwide. Major amputation, above or below the knee, is a feared complication of diabetes. More than 60% of non-traumatic amputations in the western world are performed in the diabetic population. Many patients who undergo an amputation, have a history of ulceration. Major amputations increase morbility and mortality and reduce the patient's quality of life. Treatment of foot complications is one of the main items in the absorption of economic and health resources addressed to the diabetic population. It is clear that effective treatment can bring about a reduction in the number of major amputations. Over recent years, we have seen a significant increase in knowledge about the physiopathological pathways of this complication, together with improvements in diagnostic techniques, but above all a standardized conservative therapeutic approach, which allows limb salvage in a high percentage of cases. This target has been achieved in specialized centers. An important prelude to diabetic foot treatment is the differing diagnosis of neuropathic and neuroischemic foot. This differentiation is essential for effective treatment. Ulceration in neuropathic foot is due to biomechanical stress and high pressure, which involves the plantar surface of toes and metatarsal heads. Treatment of a neuropathic plantar ulcer must correct pathological plantar pressures through weight bearing relief. Surgical treatment of deformities, with or without ulcerations, is effective therapy. A neuropathic ulcer that is not adequately treated can become a chronic ulcer that does not heal. An ulcer that does not heal for many months has a high probability of leading to osteomyelitis, for which treatment with antibiotics is not useful and which usually requires a surgical procedure. Charcot neuroarthropathy is a particular complication of neuropathy which may lead to fragmentation or destruction of joints and bones. A well-timed diagnosis of Charcot neuroartropathy is essential to avoid deformities of chronic evolution. In the diabetic population peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is the main risk factor for amputation. If peripheral vascular disease is ignored, surgical treatment of the lesion cannot be successful. In diabetic patients, PVD is especially distal, but often fully involves the femoral, popliteal and tibial vessels. It can be successfully treated with either open surgical or endovascular procedures. Infection is a serious complication of diabetic foot, especially when neuroischemic: phlegmon or necrotizing fascitis are not only limb-threatening problems, but also life-threatening ones. In this case, emergency surgery is needed. Primary and secondary prevention of foot ulceration is the main target. Prevention programs must be carried out to highlight risk factors, lowering amputation incidence.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amputation, Surgical
  • Diabetic Foot / epidemiology
  • Diabetic Foot / physiopathology*
  • Diabetic Foot / surgery
  • Diabetic Foot / therapy*
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Ischemia / physiopathology