Spirit of Women magazine is a national publication presented to women by hospitals and their physicians. The magazine provides up-to-date, evidence-based healthcare information and promotes our hospitals as leaders in women's health excellence.
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23 serves as medical director of its Wound Healing Center in Allegan, Mich. "People with diabetic foot ulcers need to get weight off wounds to allow them to heal," he says. "That may mean wearing therapeutic footwear, orthotic insoles or both. If it's venous leg ulcers, patients often need to wear compression stockings. I recognize these things can be a nuisance, but they're necessary for the wound to heal." Communication is key to closing the gap between what your doctor needs from you and what you can reasonably do. If your therapeutic shoes trip you up, or the compression stockings are so tight you can't get them on, don't be afraid to speak up. "We understand that people battle these issues and others—medication side effects, for example—and we can sometimes make adjustments that make things easier," says Dr. Sukstorf. GET EDUCATED To avoid complications after surgery, patients should pay attention to specific details of their wound care regimen, says Dr. Clifford Ko, who is director of the American College of Surgeons Division of Research and Optimal Patient Care and a professor of surgery at the University of California, Los Angeles. "You need to know when and how to change any dressings, when it's OK to get the wound wet, and what to expect so you can get in touch with your surgeon if something doesn't look right," he says. "Get good instructions and communicate with the surgeon or nurse about what is OK and what is not." Your surgeon will likely advise you to get up and move around as soon as you are able, to help prevent blood clots and constipation. However, he or she may also tell you to restrict certain activity depending on the location of your incision—for example, advising you not to lift more than a few pounds after a hysterectomy, according to Dr. Ko. "Too much tension on a healing incision can cause it to separate, which might require another procedure to close it," he says. With foot and leg ulcers, healing the injury as rapidly as possible is the best way to prevent infection. "That means keeping the wound properly dressed, not submerging it in water and having good nutrition to keep your immune system healthy so it can fight off infections," Dr. Sukstorf says. PREVENT INFECTION For wounds like simple foot and leg ulcers, your primary care physician may be able to manage the entire treatment. But if a wound hasn't healed after a month of treatment, then it's time to seek specialized care, explains Dr. Blass. "Wound care centers can provide advanced care such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy and biologic products," he says. Infection is the most common complication of surgical wounds, so check your wound daily for any signs of it, such as increasing redness, pain, swelling or drainage, and call your doctor immediately if you think that there is a problem. Dr. Ko also stresses the importance of washing your hands thoroughly before and after touching your incision—and making sure anyone else who touches you does the same. "If you didn't see a nurse or doctor wash their hands, ask. It's one of the best ways to prevent infection," says Dr. Ko. • Get a grip on Optimal wound healing requires patients to have a good handle on their overall health. That means controlling any underlying medical conditions, particularly diabetes, says Dr. Marcus Blass, affiliated with Allegan General Hospital in Allegan, Mich. Along with cigarette smoking, poorly controlled blood sugar levels is the most common barrier to wound healing that Dr. Blass sees in his clinic. High blood sugar levels slow down the healing process by stiffening and narrowing arteries, which decreases the flow of blood, oxygen and other nutrients to the wound. A nutritious diet will also help you heal better. Eating enough protein and other nutrients, such as vitamins A and C, gives skin and deeper tissues building blocks for repair, says Dr. Angela Sukstorf, affiliated with Fremont Hospital in Fremont, Neb. "Patients healing from wounds need about 25 percent more protein than normal," she says. Ask your healthcare provider to explain what amount of protein and other nutrients you might need based on your body weight, age and activity level, she says. lifestyle changes SHUTTERSTOCK