Causes for Leg Amputation

Leg Amputation

Having diabetes doesn’t mean you’ll definitely face a leg amputation, but it does increase your risk. In fact, nearly two-thirds of limb amputations in the United States are diabetes-related.

According to the American Diabetes Association, while the number of amputations has dropped by half over the past 20 years, there are still 73,000 amputations performed annually in adults with diabetes. Foot ulcers are largely the ultimate cause. Ulcers develop in 15 percent of diabetics, and, of that group, 24 percent end up losing a limb. The risk is two to three times higher for black, Hispanic, and Native American patients.

But, what causes the ulcers that lead to losing your leg? There are several factors that put you at risk, and being aware of these problems can help you minimize their impact.

High Blood Sugar

Blood sugar levels that are too high prompt nerve swelling and scarring. Damaged nerves have trouble sending messages, so you’ll eventually go numb in your lower extremities. Without feeling, you’re less likely to notice sores and wounds on your feet. Left untreated, these spots can become ulcers that develop infections that reach down into your bone and impact your entire foot and leg.

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

PAD is more common in individuals with diabetes. The condition, also called atherosclerosis, clogs your arteries and decreases your blood circulation. Poor circulation makes it harder for any ulcers to heal. Without the proper blood supply, your ulcers will continue to worsen, opening the door that leads to infection and potential leg amputation.

Compromised Immune System

If your diabetes isn’t well controlled, your immune system can’t function properly to fight off the infections that lead to leg amputations. Without white blood cells and sufficient blood supply to attack infection, good, healthy tissue dies. At that point, a life-threatening infection can spread quickly to your bones and joints, making an amputation the only treatment option.

Skin Changes

Researchers from the University of Bristol recently discovered ulcers happen in the lower limbs of some diabetic patients because the connective tissue in the skin actually changes. The tissue renews at a faster rate, making collagen abnormal and skin weaker. Weaker skin breaks down faster and forms ulcers more easily.

Although more research is needed to figure out how common the problem is, the researchers said maintaining low blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels is a good way to treat the skin changes. The skin alterations can be undetectable for a long time, though, so don’t wait to control your levels until you see problems.

Reduce Your Risk, Control Your Blood Sugar

There are things you can do to limit your amputation risk, however. The biggest step is controlling your blood sugar — keep it at 80-130 mg/dL before meals and 180 mg/dL after eating. Include lean meats, fruits, vegetables, fiber, and whole grains in your diet, and avoid sugar-sweetened juice and soda. Exercise 30 minutes daily. Maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure (less than 120/80), and take your diabetes medications as directed.

Contact Us to Learn More on Causes for a Leg Amputation

Overall, remember that having diabetes doesn’t mean you will lose a limb. Work with your doctor to keep your diabetes under control and ensure your feet are as healthy as possible. If you have any questions or concerns, you can also contact us at Amputation Prevention Centers of America.

Get Your Blood Flowing: Improving Circulation with Diabetes

improving circulation
Your first thought about managing your diabetes might be controlling your blood sugar. But, don’t forget about improving circulation. Your blood needs to pump smoothly so your feet and legs stay as healthy as possible.

If you’re feeling numbness, tingling, or cramping in your feet, peripheral arterial disease (PAD) could be to blame. This condition, that narrows and hardens arteries due to fatty plaque build-up, affects between 8-12 million Americans, and approximately one-third of individuals with diabetes over age 50 live with it.

Poor blood flow plays a large role in the 73,000 amputations that occur among people with diabetes annually, so improving circulation could not only improve how your legs and feet feel, but it could also save you from losing an extremity.

Consider taking these steps to improving circulation:

Exercise: Engage in some form of cardiovascular activity for 30 minutes five days a week to keep your blood pumping. Biking, walking, running, swimming, and aerobics are good options. The most important thing is to be sure you’re moving your toes, feet, ankles, and legs.

Quit smoking: Smoking hardens your arteries, much like PAD, and decreases your circulation. Stopping can help improve how well your blood reaches your legs and feet.

Control your cholesterol: High cholesterol can narrow and harden your arteries, limiting your circulation. Talk with your doctor about what your optimal cholesterol numbers are and shoot for lower.

Keep blood sugar low: Managing your blood sugar levels is also important to maintaining healthy blood flow. Keep your levels between 80-130 mg/dL before eating and under 180 mg/dL after eating. Pay attention to your A1C levels, too, though. The target level for people with diabetes is 6.5 percent.

De-stress: Not only does stress increase your heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels, but it also sends more blood to your brain, heart, and skeletal muscles. Conscious muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and visualizing comfortable situations, such as using the WarmFeet technique, can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, increase your body temperature, and route blood to more areas of the body, including your extremities. In fact, WarmFeet has been clinically proven to increase circulation and heal foot ulcers.

Wear diabetic compression socks: Compression socks apply pressure to your calves and feet, straightening out your veins so the valves work better and let more blood flow through. Be sure any socks you choose won’t wrinkle and offer extra padding and flat seams. Socks made from acrylic, merino wool, bamboo, and charcoal mixed with spandex minimize the abrasiveness on your feet and decrease the amount of moisture that could come in contact with any foot sores you might develop. Compression socks range from extra-light to extra-firm pressure. Talk with your doctor about what would be best for you.

Take medications correctly: If your doctor prescribes blood thinners, take it as directed. It can’t stop the build-up of plaque on your arteries, but it can improve your circulation.


Following these suggestions could help you avoid the negative impacts of poor circulation. The more freely your blood flows, the less pain, discomfort, numbness, and cold temperatures you’ll experience in your feet and legs.

Contact the Amputation Prevention Centers of America for more information on how to improve your circulation.