Diabetes is a devastating disease. It can be managed, and many of the complications of diabetes are preventable. This takes much dedication of the patient and a team of doctors. Discovering you have diabetes and making life changes to prevent life threatening complication of the disease is very difficult. Thus, many people still run into problems associated to diabetes. Foot problems are among one the most common complications. 70% of all limb amputations are due to diabetes!
There are several reasons diabetics have foot problems but let’s talk about the three big causes. When the nerves are exposed to high levels of glucose or high blood sugars, they are slowly damaged. Thus, many diabetics suffer from peripheral neuropathy, a disease in which they slowly lose protective sensation in the feet. This can be very dangerous. I have had patients who had glass, needles, tacks and other objects stuck in their foot and they never remember how it happened. I have also had patients burn themselves in the bath tub. Their feet can no longer perceive temperature and they can easily burn or freeze their feet!
Diabetics also suffer from poor circulation. Blood carries many nutrients and oxygen that is essential to keep tissues healthy. Poor blood supply makes it extremely difficult for damaged tissues to heal. When a patient has a wound or ulcer on the foot, their poor blood supply makes it is so hard for the area to heal. Diabetics also have a compromised immune system. The body is weakened in its defense mechanism to fight off infections. Infections kill good tissues and leaves dead necrotic tissue behind. Infections can spread very fast from soft tissue to bone and joints and even into the blood supply. Infections can be life threatening.
When the threat of infection is too severe and can no longer be managed by antibiotics, the doctor may suggest an amputation. To remove all or as much dead tissue as possible helps prevent the infection spreading to other areas of the body. A doctor may also suggest amputation if the foot has become non-functional.
The thought of losing a part of your body is a very difficult concept to deal with. It is not uncommon for the doctor to suggest therapy to help the patient cope with process of surgery and rehabilitation. It is important to note that amputations are a part of medical plan to keep you as health as possible. It is important to discuss your fears and concerns with your doctor and to seek second opinions if you do not feel comfortable with your doctor’s advice. It is your leg and should be fully aware to the risk and consequences of keeping and amputating portions of your limb.