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Electric Current Helps Diabetic Foot Ulcers

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A device that delivers high-voltage electric stimulation to the skin can help diabetic foot ulcers heal, preliminary study findings suggest.

People with diabetes may develop foot ulcers as a result of poor circulation and a reduced ability to fight infection. Usually, ulcers are treated by cleaning and dressing the wound to keep it moist and resting the affected limb, but in some cases, damage can be severe enough to require amputation.

According to a report in the June issue of the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, patients who used an electric stimulation device in addition to standard treatment were more likely to heal.

The study of 35 diabetic patients compared high-voltage, pulsed galvanic electric stimulation every night for 8 hours with an inactive placebo treatment that felt the same but delivered no current. Patients also underwent weekly removal of dead tissue, topical treatment and rest.

Over 3 months, 65% of patients who received electric stimulation healed, compared with 35% of patients in the placebo group.

It is not clear how electric stimulation aids in wound healing, but the researchers suggest that it may enhance blood flow and immune system cell function.

``It's not a silver bullet,'' study author Dr. Lawrence A. Lavery of the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio, told Reuters Health, noting that the device should be used in combination with other measures. However, he added, ``it is more promising than some pharmaceuticals that I've seen.''

There was no difference in the amount of time it took for wounds to heal among groups, the study found.

Still, ``the results of this study are quite promising and compare favorably with several recent reports in the medical literature on wound healing in persons with diabetes mellitus,'' Lavery and colleagues conclude.

They add that larger trials should be conducted to further investigate whether electric stimulation can help diabetic foot ulcers to heal.

SOURCE: Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 2001;82:721-724.


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