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Hyperbarics for Diabetic Foot Injury


It is estimated that every 30 seconds someone in the world has their foot amputated because of a diabetic foot ulcer. Reduced blood supply to the feet and lower legs in people with diabetes delays wound healing and increases infection and chance of gangrene. Foot infection worsens the situation of inadequate blood supply by increasing the area's need for oxygen but decreasing blood supply. Poor blood supply further decreases ability to fight infection. Diabetic ulcers treated with antibiotics can become colonized with drug-resistant bugs.

I am at the annual meeting of the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS). Several interesting studies are being presented on diabetic wound healing. Enhancement of healing in selected problem wounds is one of the 13 approved indications for use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy as defined by the Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Committee. Hyperbaric treatments are done by putting the entire person in a small room or chamber and increasing the pressure inside so that the person breathes oxygen at higher pressure than what you are breathing now. The post Does Hyperbaric Oxygen Help Exercise Ability? explains more of how it works.

One of the studies presented here looked at 50 patients with severe diabetic foot ulcers. Half were treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy (age and gender matched with the half who did not). Diabetic patients treated with hyperbaric oxygen had 56% chance of healing and 16% chance of amputation. Diabetic patients not receiving hyperbaric oxygen therapy had a 32% chance of healing and a 32% chance of amputation. Supplying oxygen to compromised areas, such as diabetic wounds, is important to restoring health. Hyperbaric oxygen is established to help that.

From the President's Competition came another study on hyperbaric oxygen therapy and stem cell mobilization in people with diabetes. This study was by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Institute for Environmental Medicine, where I did nine years of my research in diving medicine. Hyperbaric oxygen is already known to mobilize bone marrow stem cells in animals, healthy humans, and in patients with a history of radiation exposure. This study looked at diabetic patients with refractory foot ulcers or radiation necrosis who were receiving hyperbaric oxygen treatments. The study was small and results varied more than in previous trials. However, the researchers reported that overall, hyperbaric oxygen therapy increased circulating CD34+ stem cells three-fold in the patients with diabetics, and was shown to play a role in wound healing. Three patients of twelve in the study group did not increase stem cells. The researchers said that the reason for no increase should be investigated.

In the exhibit hall of the hyperbaric conference, various companies display their fun oximetry units. There are several kinds of oximeters. The most common ones painlessly assess oxygen levels through the skin. Oximetry is used to assess oxygen available to the injured and surrounding tissue, and to tell how well hyperbaric oxygen treatments are working to improve oxygenation and new blood vessel growth. I like to try them all on, on different parts of my body. I experiment with different exercises to see the different effects on oxygenating different areas. Movement makes rapid, effective increases in oxygen levels.

In the past, people with diabetes were cautioned not to exercise because it was felt that they would injure themselves. Now it's known that exercise is an important part of preventing injuries from diabetes, and preventing or curbing diabetes itself. Regular exercise:

  • Helps your body burn more sugar.
  • Increases the number of insulin receptors on your cells and increases the sensitivity of your body to insulin.
  • Helps your body grow new blood vessels and improve circulation.
  • Improves oxygen levels to areas to help them heal.
  • Reduces high blood fat levels (cholesterol and triglycerides) which leads to early aging of blood vessels.
  • Increases blood flow to the feet, which helps prevent diabetic foot problems.

Keep moving for many aspects of preventing disease, secondary effects from disease, and to improve your health.

Here is the next post from the conference Exercise and Fitness in Decompression Sickness Risk.

Photo by yngrich

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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.