When patients are diagnosed with diabetes, one common fear is losing a limb to the disease. And, unfortunately, that fear is founded in fact. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), about 154,000 people with diabetes in the United States lose a lower limb each year, and that number is growing.
The most troubling part of that statistic is that medical professionals believe the vast majority of those amputations could be prevented with the proper education and care. However, some diabetes patients who are losing limbs often don’t have the privilege, medical attention, or information needed to maintain their healthy feet and legs after their diagnosis.
At Alliance Foot & Ankle Specialists, we understand that treating diabetic feet should be firmly centered on patient education, consistent care, and careful monitoring. Our diabetic limb salvage program emphasizes preventing wounds from developing, catching wounds that do develop as quickly as possible, and treating any existing wounds carefully and completely.
For all of our patients, and especially for our diabetic patients, we believe in cultivating long-term patient-podiatrist relationships that may more successfully promote limb salvage and prevent wounds, ulcers, infections, and gangrene—all issues that can lead to amputation.
Wound care is particularly important for those with diabetes and those with diabetic feet. It’s possible that what appears to be a small wound could turn into more severe foot complications down the road if left untreated.
How Diabetes Contributes to Foot Infections and Amputations
Many patients develop a condition known as diabetic neuropathy, a common complication of diabetes. Neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that affects the body and can cause numbness, weakness, and pain in the extremities, usually the hands and feet.
If you no longer experience feeling in your feet, it’s possible you won’t notice if a wound develops because you won’t feel the normal “red flag” signals your body sends, including pain and discomfort. Additionally, if you don’t check your feet daily, you may miss signs of a developing wound. When a wound is unprotected and left untreated, it can develop into an ulcer, which then deepens, leaving the inner flesh and bone open to developing an infection. This infection could spread and develop into gangrene—and your limp could require amputation.
Factors That Contribute to Diabetic Foot Wounds
Some factors that contribute to diabetic foot wounds include wearing tightly fitted shoes and walking barefoot. What may start as a minor scrape or blister and cause just a small inconvenience can worsen over time, so it’s important to be safe and seek the attention of a podiatrist. If you develop a foot wound, we recommend that you try to keep weight off of the area until you’re able to meet with someone from our team.
Other indirect factors that can contribute to wound formation include lifestyle choices, such as smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise.
Help Prevent Wounds and Amputations
One important way you can help prevent a diabetic amputation is by controlling your diabetes with medication and blood sugar monitoring. Other ways include:
- Inspecting your feet daily
- Washing and drying your feet completely after a shower or bath
- Making sure your toes have enough space in your shoes
- Properly trimming your toenails
- Improving leg circulation with special socks, elevation, and regular walking
- Not walking barefoot, especially outside
- Making lifestyle changes, such as getting enough exercise and quitting smoking
The single best thing you can do to help prevent amputation is to perform a daily foot check and look for signs of the following:
- Broken skin and wounds
- Ingrown nails
- Pain or discomfort
If, while performing your foot inspection, you see any signs of these foot problems, it’s important to contact our office and schedule an appointment to discuss your symptoms. We are also happy to help inspect your feet or trim your nails.
Diabetic Foot Wound Treatment
If a wound does develop, it’s imperative that it be treated quickly and carefully. In the case of a small wound without infection, treatment may be as simple as staying off your feet and cleaning and dressing the area. In the case of an ulcer or infection, you may need more intervention and more aggressive care, which could include:
- Complex wound closures
- Skin grafting
- Medication, such as antibiotics or pain relief
- Specialized dressings
- Non-amputation limb salvage surgery
Wound treatment also requires consistent monitoring during the healing process.
What to Expect at a Diabetic Foot Health Appointment
Because diabetic foot health rests on a foundation of education and prevention, one of the best steps you can take after being diagnosed with diabetes is to make an appointment with one of our podiatrists, Dr. Nichols or Dr. Harvey. They will meet with you and establish a care plan to help you avoid debilitating foot wounds and infections to keep you moving on healthy feet.
At your first appointment, we will discuss your health history, you will meet your doctor, and they will examine your legs and feet. From there, you can talk about any concerns you have, get all of your questions answered, and learn about how you can avoid and prevent common diabetic foot issues through simple lifestyle changes and at-home checks. You can also learn about when you should come in to see us for help with a diabetic foot issue.
See Our Texas Podiatrists for Wound Care Treatment That Works
Many people struggle with foot pain symptoms for years because they have not found the right course of treatment. Our Grapevine podiatrists understand that treating the foot means treating the whole body, and we work to help find treatment for your pain that is effective and sustainable.