Diabetes and Lower Leg Amputation: What you need to know to keep your feet

Diabetic Foot Care, University Foot and Ankle InstituteAn estimated 28.9 million American adults have been diagnosed with diabetes. That’s about 12% of the population, and that number is only expected to grow as more and more children are diagnosed at alarming rates.

Everyone knows that managing diabetes means adjusting your diet and taking medication. But did you know that checking your feet is just as important as monitoring your blood sugar? By keeping a close eye on your feet, you could save them from a frightening fate.

Diabetes and Foot Amputations

As unlikely as it might seem, a tiny cut or blister on your foot could lead to a lower-leg amputation if you’re lackadaisical about taking care of your feet.

According to the UCSF Center for Limb Preservation & Wound Care, the number of lower-limb diabetes-related amputations has reached 82,000. Between 14-25% of diabetic foot ulcers will eventually lead to an amputation.

What is a Diabetic Foot Ulcer?

Foot Ulcer, University Foot and Ankle Institute

Most foot ulcers occur on the sole of the foot, but they can occur on the tops of the feet, the toes, the sides, and the Achilles region.

Most foot ulcers occur on the sole of the foot, but they can occur on the tops of the feet, the toes, the sides, and the Achilles region. You may have a diabetic foot ulcer if an open sore on your foot:

  • Looks reddened
  • Feels warm to the touch
  • Drains pus
  • Isn’t healing, or
  • Keeps coming back

No Foot Wound is Too Small for Diabetics

A diabetic foot ulcer starts like any other wound. Maybe you stepped on a tack, or burned your feet on a hot surface. You could have got a splinter while walking on the boardwalk, or a blister while breaking in your new shoes.

For most folks, small wounds typically heal on their own, even without any medical attention. But for patients with diabetes, small wounds that are unable to heal just keep getting worse. Eventually, they become infected and form an ulcer.

How Do Diabetic Foot Ulcers Develop?

There are two main reasons why foot ulcers are so dangerous for patients with diabetes.

1. You cannot feel the open sore in your foot

This is due to diabetic neuropathy, a very common complication of diabetes. Neuropathy refers to nerve damage and loss of feeling in the lower limbs. Watch out for these signs of neuropathy:

  • Numbness that starts in the toes
  • Inability to feel pain, heat, or cold.
  • Loss of feeling that gradually climbs up the legs
  • Symptoms occurring in both legs

2. Your foot wound cannot heal.

Diabetes can cause a serious disease called Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) that prevents blood from circulating to the legs. Patients with PAD are unable to supply the wound with oxygen and nutrients that are essential to the healing process.

You may have PAD if you notice:

  • Leg fatigue while walking
  • Leg pain, even at rest
  • Pale or bluish hue in the legs, feet, or toes
  • Less leg hair and toenail growth than usual
  • One leg feels colder than the other

Diabetes Treatment, University Foot and Ankle Institute Do I Need to See a Doctor about Diabetic Foot Ulcers?

Yes – and don’t wait!

If you have an ulcer that isn’t healing, make an appointment with your foot and ankle specialist immediately. The ulcer may be a sign that you have PAD, in which case it will be starved of much-needed oxygen and won’t be able to heal itself.

Treatment options for PAD

Only your doctor can diagnose PAD and treat your ulcer to prevent amputation. If your condition is caught early enough, you may need only conservative treatment. However, for severe ulcers and PAD, your doctor may recommend surgery:

Bypass surgery for PAD

Bypass surgery is a technique to re-route blood through an alternative conduit that “bypasses” the blockage in the vein.

Angioplasty for PAD

Angioplasty is a minimally-invasive procedure that can improve circulation and aid the healing process. Typically doctors can only perform angioplasty if the PAD is diagnosed early.

The best way to avoid surgery is to check your feet every day, and call your foot and ankle specialist right away if you notice that a sore on your foot isn’t healing.

If you have question about diabetic foot ulcers or any other foot and ankle conditions, we encourage you to call us at (877) 989-9110 or visit us at www.footankleinstitute.com

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