Your body can develop slow-healing or nonhealing wounds as a result of diabetes, a condition that occurs when your body can’t produce enough insulin or can’t use insulin well enough to convert the sugars you consume into energy. When blood sugar builds up, it affects your body’s ability to heal wounds. Other conditions, such as peripheral neuropathy, poor circulation, foot ulcers and a diminished immune system, can affect how quickly your wounds can heal. Slow-healing wounds can happen in any part of the body, but they are most common on the feet.

Many people who have diabetes experience numbness due to neuropathy, and this loss of sensation usually means you won’t feel as much pain from slow-healing or nonhealing wounds. You may also experience any of the following conditions:

  • Drainage or pus
  • Fever
  • Foul odor
  • Redness or warmth around the wound site
  • Swelling in the area affected by the wound, such as the foot

High blood sugar is one of the primary causes of slow-healing or nonhealing wounds. When a person’s blood sugar level is elevated, it can cause poor blood circulation which keeps nutrients and oxygen essential to healing from getting to the wound. It can also cause swelling and block the immune system from promoting healing. 
Other causes can include:

  • Immune system issues, which make your body less able to fend off infection and promote healing. 
  • Infection, in which high blood sugar stimulates bacterial growth in your bloodstream.
  • Peripheral neuropathy, in which damage to your nerves and blood vessels causes your hands, feet and other areas of the body to lose sensation.

Not all slow-healing wounds can be prevented, but you can take these steps to lower your risk:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Follow your medical provider’s guidance to keep blood sugar in a healthy range.
  • Limit alcohol consumption.
  • Manage high cholesterol and other health conditions that can affect healing.
  • Regularly examine your body for cuts, scrapes or other wounds so they can be promptly treated.
  • Take extra precautions to avoid cuts, including never walking barefoot — even inside your home.
  • Wear socks and shoes that support your feet and don’t rub against them awkwardly or constrict them. 

When slow-healing or nonhealing wounds aren’t treated, serious complications can occur, including:

  • Amputation of the affected body part, such as the hand or foot
  • Blood or wound infection
  • Edema, a type of swelling caused by excess fluids in the body’s tissues
  • Osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone
  • Sepsis, a life-threatening response to an infection that impacts the entire body

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