Every year 1.4 million American are diagnosed with diabetes, a condition that results from too much sugar in the blood. This area of the country has a very high rate of the disease – and that may be due to the lack of understanding about the basic building blocks of a healthy diet. But uncontrolled diabetes can have a range of negative health consequences – including stubborn wounds that won’t heal to foot and lower leg amputations.
“We have more issues than ever before with people suffering from advanced diabetic foot problems – and they don’t realize how serious a condition it really is,” says Michael Greer, MD, vascular surgeon with University Surgical Associates. “I see many people with diabetic foot ulcers that need an amputation that could have avoided it completely with appropriate care.”
What are diabetic ulcers?Fifteen percent of people in our region have diabetes. Diabetic foot ulcers are open wounds or sores that commonly occur on the bottom of the foot or on the toes. Approximately 3-5% percent of people with diabetes have these sores, and of those who develop an ulcer, 25 percent will require surgery. We know that diabetes is the leading cause of non-traumatic lower extremity amputations in the US – and many people with diabetes who develop a foot ulcer will require an amputation, especially if untreated.
“Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to neuropathy, a disease of one or more of the peripheral nerves that can lead to numbness or weakness in the legs and feet. It can lead to a reduced or lack of ability to feel pain in the feet due to nerve damage cause by elevated blood glucose levels,” says Dr. Greer. “Because of nerve damage, many people don’t realize they have an ulcer since they can’t feel pain. This numbness and poor circulation is a terrible combination that can lead to wounds that are very difficult to heal.”
The Importance of PreventionDiabetes itself contributes to vascular disease and circulatory problems that cause damage to the nerves that often goes unnoticed. You are high risk for a foot ulcer if you have neuropathy, poor circulation or a foot deformity like a bunion or hammer toe. Wearing inappropriate shoes, having uncontrolled blood sugar or a previous history of foot ulcers also put you at increased risk. That’s why it’s critical to take every step in preventing the condition from getting out of control.
Reducing additional risk factors – like smoking, drinking alcohol, high cholesterol and elevated blood sugar levels – are also important ways you can prevent ulcers in the first place. Checking your feet and taking quick action on any sore no matter how small or seemingly insignificant is also key. Look out for bruises, cuts, blisters, cracks, and redness, and share any foot changes with your primary care provider.
Dr. Greer points out that many people with diabetes who see a small black spot or have bumped their foot may ignore it at first because it doesn’t appear to be serious or be causing any discomfort. When in doubt, talk with your doctor right away.
Advanced Help for Vascular Issues“As the rate of diabetes continues to rise, there’s a fight to save human limbs from the foot ulcers and chronic wounds that often come with this condition. Left untreated, these severe cases can lead to amputations,” says Dr. Greer. “Patients with chronic wounds – that are often associated with vascular disease and diabetes – require a comprehensive approach to the issues of infection, vascular disease and diabetes management.”
Many people with diabetes suffer with blood flow issues or vascular disease, which reduces the body’s ability it to heal itself and increases the risk for infection. At USA, we offer comprehensive diagnostic and therapeutic services to treat vascular disorders like venous disease, vascular disease, peripheral artery disease, that restore proper blood flow. Working together with your primary care physician, we use advanced techniques to improve circulation – and your body’s ability to heal itself. - Dr. Greer
Learn more about University Surgical’s Vascular Diagnostic Services here. To schedule an appointment for an evaluation, call 423.267.0466.