People with diabetes are at a higher risk of foot amputation, because of two conditions that are common to diabetics: diabetic neuropathy and peripheral arterial disease (PAD).
Diabetes can cause nerve damage when blood sugar levels are too high for an extended period of time. This nerve damage is called diabetic neuropathy, and it usually affects the legs and feet. The symptoms range from numbness to a tingling sensation to intense pain, such as a burning sensation.
The nerve damage caused by diabetic neuropathy can make it difficult to recognize other foot issues. The danger is that cuts and wounds, including diabetic ulcers, can happen without the person knowing it. When a healthy person steps on a piece of glass or a splinter, the pain of each subsequent step forces us to address the injury, but a person with diabetic neuropathy could walk on with a piece of glass without ever feeling it. This is one reason that it is recommended that people with diabetic neuropathy regularly inspect their feet for any cuts or sores.
Another issue is that small problems can get worse without the person knowing it, leading to bad infections. Many people will not seek professional medical help unless they absolutely have to, due to pain or loss of foot function. A person with diabetic neuropathy might let a minor injury turn into a serious problem because a healthy pain response is no longer possible due to the nerve damage. Plus, people with this condition may also have a slow healing in their legs and feet, due to another condition.
Peripheral Artery Disease
With Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD), fatty deposits begin to clog your arteries, especially in your legs and feet. Without good blood flow in and out of your legs and feet, it’s hard for your body to fight infections. When you have an infection your body uses your arteries to send in infection-fighting cells. The lack of blood flow makes it hard for this immune response to happen properly. Small cuts and wounds that should heal quickly take a long time to heal, and sometimes get worse, in which the infection spreads to healthy parts of the foot. In these cases, the doctor might have to make a decision whether to amputate the foot.
Alternatives to Amputation
The decision to amputate a foot or leg is always a last resort, to save the neighboring areas and often the patient’s life. So the doctor will often exhaust all the other options before recommending an amputation. For example, they might explore surgical options to remove only the dead tissue or infected area only. Sometimes they will recommend amputating toes, while trying to save the rest of the foot. There is also a surgical process called revascularization, which is a procedure that attempts to bring good blood flow to the area. In some cases, they will try intravenous antibiotics to help your immune system defeat the infection.
Of course the best option is prevention. Getting diabetes under control is extremely important, because the bouts of high sugar levels are responsible for so much of the damage of these two conditions. Also, doctors recommend quitting smoking and getting plenty of exercise, as these two healthy habits improve circulation in the feet.
Suffering From a Diabetic Foot Ulcer? We May Be Able to Help
Diabetic foot ulcers are serious medical conditions that are entirely preventable. It’s important that podiatrists thoroughly examine their patients and implement any prevention strategies or apply proper treatments for diabetic foot ulcers.
If your doctor failed to treat a diabetic foot ulcer adequately, and this ulcer later developed into a serious medical condition, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice claim. Our Baltimore medical malpractice attorneys can help sort out the details and determine if you’re eligible for compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and more.