What You Need to Know About Amputation and Diabetes
Diabetes, when present in the body for several years, can cause many other health complications.
Heart disease, kidney disease, retinopathy and neuropathy are a few of these complications. Left untreated, they can become extremely damaging to the body.
One of the most potentially serious complications is neuropathy, which at its worse can lead to amputation. Because of neuropathy, or the nerve damage, and poor circulation, the feet are more vulnerable to skin sores, or ulcers, which can quickly worsen and can become difficult to treat. A non-healing ulcer that causes severe damage to tissues and bone could require the amputation of a toe, foot or part of a leg if it is not treated promptly and properly.
Medical experts say diabetes is one of the leading causes of amputation of the lower limbs throughout the world. Furthermore, problems of the foot are the most frequent reasons for hospitalization among patients with diabetes. All people who have diabetes are advised to make foot check-ups part of their regular care routine.
Diabetic foot complications are more common amongst the elderly, and amputation rates increase with age. Other factors that can increase your risk are vascular disease, infection and deformity of the feet. Doctors estimate that almost half of all amputations are caused by neuropathy and circulatory problems that could be prevented with proper foot care.
There are many treatment options for foot ulcers, which vary depending on the severity of the wound. The basic procedure involves the removal of dead tissue or debris, in an attempt to keep the wound clean and promote healing. However, when the condition results in a severe loss of tissue or in a life-threatening infection, an amputation might be the only option.
In general amputations – not just diabetes-related amputations – are classified as major or minor. Minor amputation refers to the removal of toes or feet. A major amputation describes an amputation that is above or below the knee.
During surgery, a surgeon will remove the damaged tissue and will preserve as much healthy tissue as possible. After surgery, the patient will be closely monitored in the hospital for a couple of days. It could take four to eight weeks for the wound to heal completely.
- Check your feet daily for blisters, cuts, cracks, sores, redness, tenderness or swelling. If you have trouble reaching down, you can use a hand mirror to see the bottom of your feet. You can also place the mirror on the floor if it is too difficult to hold. You can ask someone to help you as well.
- Wash your feet every day in lukewarm water. Remember to dry them gently, especially between the toes. You can use a pumice stone to gently rub the skin where calluses have formed. Sprinkle talcum powder between your toes to help keep the skin dry. Lastly, use lotion on to keep the skin soft.
- Try to not remove calluses, scabs or other foot lesions yourself. Do not use a nail file, nail clipper or scissors on calluses, corns, bunions or warts, as these can damage the skin. Talk to your doctor or foot specialist for advice on removal of any of these lesions.
- Avoid going barefoot to prevent injury to your feet, even around the house. Always wear clean, dry socks . Look for socks made of fibers that pull sweat away from your skin, like cotton and avoid nylon. Avoid using socks with tight elastic bands as they can reduce circulation, as well as thick bulky socks that often fit poorly and irritate your skin.
- Remember to buy shoes that fit properly and comfortably. Look for shoes that do not fit tightly and provide support and cushioning for the heel, arch and ball of the foot. Try to avoid high heels or narrow shoes. Talk to your doctor, as he or she might recommend specially designed shoes for your feet.
- Avoid smoking as it impairs circulation and reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood. These circulatory problems can make wounds more severe and prevent healing.
- Schedule regular foot checkups and always take foot injuries seriously. Your doctor can check your feet for early signs of nerve damage, poor circulation or other foot problems. Schedule foot exams at least once a year or as often as is recommended by your doctor.
Sources: Diabetes.co.uk and MayoClinic.com