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How does the diabetic foot result in amputation?

Updated on 20 June 2024

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Diabetes mellitus poses several dangers to its carrier’s health.

The complications it causes often include blindness, hypertension, and other cardiovascular diseases.

However, the plantar problems caused by diabetes can sometimes go ignored.

This is quite surprising, considering that diabetic foot is responsible for 50% of non-traumatic lower-limb amputations.

Let’s look at what causes a person with diabetes to have a complication that could lead to an amputation.

A loss in sensing danger

Abnormally high blood sugar levels “eat away” at the nerves in the legs and feet in the long run.

This is known as peripheral neuropathy.

Poorly controlled diabetes can also be characterized by plantar dryness and the foot deformities it promotes.

This loss of sensation is problematic as it prevents the patient from recognizing an injury and thus seeking the necessary treatment for their diabetic foot.

While the damage to the nervous system is certainly harmful in its own right, when combined with circulatory problems, it can become truly devastating.

These red flags may alert you that diabetes is causing the development of peripheral neuropathy:

  • A tingling sensation in the feet and legs;
  • A progressive numbness;
  • A noticeable decrease in sensitivity to temperature changes.

Vascular disorders

Circulatory disorders are also the result of high blood sugar.

The following vascular effects are attributed to abnormal glucose levels in the blood:

  • Arteriosclerosis, which is characterized by hardening and lack of elasticity of the arteries that normally supply the feet and legs;
  • Hypertension, which overwhelms the heart by maintaining too much blood pressure for the body;
  • Atherosclerosis, in which fatty deposits form and remain in the arteries.

While these 3 symptoms together already disrupt blood flow, they also pose an obstacle to the regular healing process.

As such, in the event of an injury, the diabetic foot is prone to more damage than a healthy foot.

A person with diabetes should thus be on the lookout for such recurring symptoms as:

If you spot an injury in your diabetic foot, it is important to see a doctor for appropriate treatment.

Lack of treatment

The aforementioned disorders stemming from diabetes make early treatment of the lesions more than necessary.

However, as peripheral neuropathy reduces sensation and the body has difficulty healing wounds, amputation may become inevitable.

Usually, the steps leading to amputation are as follows:

  • Infection;
  • The development of an ulcer;
  • Necrosis of the tissue affected by the infection (gangrene).

The operation has for purpose to remove the necrotic tissue and stop the infectious ulceration before it spreads to the rest of the leg.

Preventive treatments for diabetic feet

Amputation is only used as a last resort. Before getting to it, there are other ways to treat a diabetic foot that is not yet completely damaged.

Here are some treatments the podiatrist can prescribe:

  • Foot orthoses, which compensate for changes in the shape of the foot;
  • A relief shoe that protects the foot and prevents wounds from reopening;
  • Custom orthopedic shoes that relieve pressure points caused by deformities of the foot;
  • Foot care that simultaneously moisturizes the sole of the foot, maintains toenails, and performs preventive examinations.

Consider consulting a podiatrist before amputation becomes necessary

A person with diabetes should see their treating podiatrist on a regular basis.

This podiatrist can better identify lesions that can become infected and lead to eventual amputation.

Contact your PiedRéseau clinic for the treatment of diabetic symptoms in your feet.

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