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.
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.