Health and Wellness

Open wounds can lead to illness, amputation if not treated urgently

Diabetics are at a particular risk of foot ulcers, which could lead to amputation.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have brought amputation risk to the forefront of wound care expert’s minds, as many suffering from chronic wounds have not sought needed care during the past two years. The result has been a steep rise in amputations, according to a study from the American Diabetes Association.

“COVID was hard on health care workers and especially hard on patients,’’ said Dr. Kitima Boonvisudhi, who is the medical director of wound care and hyperbaric medicine at the McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center. “Many patients had a lot of anxiety and frustration, and it was surprising to see the amount of people that were coming in with chronic wounds.

“We saw a lot of people who were self medicating, the people who tend to smoke, smoke more, and the people who drank, drank more,” Boonvisudhi said. “The number of patients and the severity of the wounds we saw was quite high.” 

Nearly 7 million Americans are living with a chronic wound, including 2 million who are living with diabetic foot ulcers. In fact, one in four people with diabetes will experience a foot ulcer. Up to 85% of diabetes related amputations are preceded by a foot ulcer. Treating these ulcers early and with the most appropriate wound healing management is key to avoiding amputation. The longer a chronic or non-healing wound goes without proper treatment, the greater the chance of infection, hospitalization, or even amputation.

“We take care of the whole patient,” Boonvisudhi said. “It’s not just fixing the foot or the leg. People end up with chronic wounds because of chronic disease and lifestyle choices. And so in order to heal, you’ve got to fix just more than that body part. You’ve got to fix the whole person.” 

If left untreated, chronic wounds contribute to a diminished quality of life and can lead to complications, such as infection, hospitalization, and even amputation of the affected limb. Even more alarming, more than half of people die within five years of amputation.

The percentage of chronic wounds is rising due to our aging population and increasing rates of disease. Various conditions like diabetes, PAD, cardiovascular disease, COPD, and obesity increase the likelihood of a person having a chronic wound. The most common wounds that Americans experience include: Pressure ulcers (43%), diabetic foot ulcers (31%), venous stasis ulcers (12%), surgical wounds or trauma (8%), and arterial ulcers (6%). Your ability to heal can be affected by diabetes, heart disease, cancer or other immune-compromising health conditions. 

Boonvisudhi recommends seeking care if a wound has been festering for longer than a week, if you begin to feel feverish, or if the wound is growing in size. 

“There is no wound too big or too small that we won’t see. Our work is a coordinated effort from all kinds of other specialists and support systems to not just heal the body part but heal the whole patient,” Boonvisudhi said. “I always tell patients if it’s been there for longer than a week, and it’s not getting better, they need to … they need to come in.”

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