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It is estimated that between 15% and 25% of people with diabetes will develop a foot ulcer at some point in their lives. Since these wounds often take a long time to heal, and in some cases do not heal at all, foot ulcers can result in amputation. In recent years, researchers and medical professionals have found that using hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) for diabetes patients with non-healing wounds can improve healing time and prevent the need for amputation.

Why Do Foot Ulcers Develop?

People with diabetes are prone to developing non-healing foot wounds. This is because one of the consequences of high glucose levels is foot neuropathy (loss of feeling in feet due to nerve damage). When diabetics lose feeling in their feet, they are unlikely to notice a small sore, resulting in a failure to treat the sore. For example, while most people will immediately notice if they are developing a blister on their foot from a new pair of shoes, a person with diabetes who has neuropathy, may not notice the sore and may continue walking, making the sore worse.

Diabetics also tend to experience circulation problems, which slows down tissue healing dramatically. Sometimes, when the initial wound does not heal, it turns into a foot ulcer. Traditionally, foot ulcers are treated by removing the dead or damaged tissue (debridement) in order to stimulate the body’s healing response to the area. However, some foot ulcers are persistent wounds, and debridement may not be sufficient. This is why many doctors have started recommending HBOT for their diabetes patients to improve wound care and facilitate healing.

What is HBOT?

Patients who undergo hyperbaric oxygen therapy are placed in a high pressure sealed chamber with is filled with 100% oxygen. Patients simply lie in the chamber and inhale the pure oxygen in the chamber. Since the percentage of oxygen in the chamber is five times the percentage of oxygen in normal air, the amount of oxygen being carried in the blood to the wound is significantly increased. Further, since the pressure in the chamber is high than normal pressure levels, oxygen is dissolved into the blood at a much higher rate, which also enables more oxygen to enter the blood supply. Patients who are undergoing HBOT for diabetes-related foot wounds usually spend up to two hours in the chamber per session, attending five sessions per week over a number of weeks.

How Does HBOT Help to Heal Diabetic Foot Ulcers?

Oxygen plays a vital role in the skin’s healing process. As more oxygen is carried to the damaged cells through the blood supply, tissue repair is facilitated. HBOT also encourages angiogenesis, which is the formation of tiny new arteries in the wound area. This in turn increases oxygen supply to the foot over a longer period. Foot ulcers are also associated with weakened immune responses and increased inflammation. These are also symptoms which HBOT can help to heal: increased oxygen levels reduce inflammation and have been known to promote white blood cell production, boosting the body’s immune system and therefore its ability to fight infections. This is important as the main reason why foot ulcers may lead to amputation is that infection easily develops at the site of the wound and can quickly enter the bone and muscle of the foot. Once infection has entered the bone, amputation becomes much more likely. This is why diabetes patients with non-healing foot wounds should be introduced to HBOT sooner rather than later, in order to promote healing and prevent infection.

Clinical Solutions for HBOT

CūtisCare provides clinical solutions for hospitals and clinics which have established hyperbaric wound care centers or are looking to add one. We are the leaders in HBOT center management, and take care of everything from billing and administration, to training, to compliance, to technical support, so that you can focus on giving your patients the best wound care possible.