We often think of diabetes solely as a disease related to increased blood sugar, but some of its most serious effects are often found in the feet. Diabetes-related circulatory and nerve problems in the feet and lower legs limit the body’s ability to heal wounds and injuries, leading to infections and other complications that may ultimately require amputation.
Early diagnosis and treatment of diabetes-related foot issues is essential to not only preventing seemingly minor issues from worsening, but also long-term management of the patient’s overall health. MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s Podiatric Surgery team can provide a complete evaluation and care regimen tailored to each patient’s unique condition, including addressing complex and challenging wounds using the latest technologies, treatment methods, and biologics.
What to Watch For
One of the difficult aspects of diabetes-related problems is the diminished feeling in the foot and lower leg. Patients often don’t realize that they’ve sustained a wound or other injury, or that their footwear is actually causing excessive friction. Some of the more common diabetes-related foot problems include:
- Cuts, and sores that don’t heal
- Corns and calluses
- Dry, cracked skin leading to sores and infection
- Ingrown toenails
- Fungal infections
- Hammertoes and bunions
Patients with diabetes are also more susceptible to a variety of chronic foot ulcers and wounds; limited joint mobility; muscle atrophy; lymphedema (severe swelling of the legs); burns; animal and insect bites; and Charcot foot, a progressive, debilitating deformation of the bones of the foot or ankle.
Some chronic diabetes-related foot issues such as ulcers can be treated with orthotics and special shoes or braces that minimize pressure. Charcot deformity may require long-term immobilization using a cast or leg braces to prevent further deterioration. Surgical options may include a simple procedure to alleviate pressure points associated with foot ulcers, or a more extensive reconstructive surgery to realign and fuse the foot in a more anatomic position.
What If Amputation is Necessary
Early diagnosis and intervention can prevent amputation from becoming necessary. Rather than being stigmatized, however, amputation may well offer a faster, more reliable means to restore a patient’s overall health and quality of life, while also eliminating an infection that could cause more serious health issues in the future.
It should also be noted that amputations don’t always involve the loss of the entire foot or leg. That’s why early consultation with a podiatric surgeon is so important to determine a viable range of options that will provide the greatest immediate and long-term physical benefits.
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