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Diabetes amputation is fairly common, with more than 60 percent of the United States' nontraumatic amputations of lower limbs happening to diabetics, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That works out to around 71,000 amputations in 2004, according to the CDC. While common, diabetes amputation is also highly preventable.
People with type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes are at risk for various secondary health conditions. Improper management and delayed treatment of these conditions can lead to the amputation of toes, feet, even legs. Fortunately, diabetics and their doctors can help prevent diabetes amputation by properly managing their diabetes and the secondary conditions associated with the disease.
The most common types of diabetes amputation include foot amputation, leg amputation, and toe amputation. This is because the secondary conditions associated with diabetes are often related to poor blood circulation, and the lower parts of the body usually suffer the most. Common secondary conditions associated with diabetes include diabetic neuropathies — which result in nerve damage — and vascular disorders — which result in damage to the blood vessels. Other conditions that might not be directly related to the diabetes but increase the need for diabetes amputation include toenail disorders and foot deformities complicated by one or more of the secondary conditions. All of these conditions put diabetics at risk for developing an infection or diabetes gangrene, both of which increase the need for diabetes amputation.
Preventing diabetes amputation is a two-fold process that includes proper diabetes management and diabetes foot care. Diabetics learn early to manage their diabetes by making healthy diet and exercise changes and monitoring and managing blood glucose levels. It’s important for most diabetics to lower their sugar intake, become more physically active, and develop a healthy sleep routine. Doctors usually also recommend decreasing or eliminating alcohol and nicotine consumption. Many diabetics also must take medications for diabetes management.
Although proper diabetes management is crucial for diabetics to live healthy lives, diabetes foot care is just as important in helping to prevent diabetes amputation. Diabetics must work to keep their feet clean, dry, and warm. They must also regularly inspect and treat their feet for cuts, bruises, and swelling. Even simple matters such as choosing shoes that fit properly and cutting toenails at the correct angle are important for diabetes foot care.
Even after they establish routines for managing their diabetes and foot care, it’s important for diabetics to regularly see their doctors. Diabetics trying to avoid diabetic amputation should see their doctors any time they notice a problem with their feet. If the problem is caught early enough, a doctor might be able to treat and repair the damage with no amputation or remove only the damaged tissue without amputating the entire body part. Diabetics should also keep their regularly scheduled medical appointments. These appointments will allow their doctors to inspect their feet and catch any problems they might have missed.
I have known one person who had to have a foot amputated due to diabetes complications. It started with a diabetic foot ulcer that became necrotic. The doctors simply couldn't keep ahead of the infection. He also had diabetic neuropathy, which meant the nerves in his foot couldn't register pain very well. A thumbtack punctured his foot, but he wasn't aware of it. The wound became infected, and the doctors decided to amputate part of his foot.
Since it was the last two toes that were removed, he could still walk around while wearing a special supportive boot. His diabetes remained out of control, however, and eventually the surgeons amputated the rest of his foot. When a doctor advises diabetics to be aware of diabetic foot problems, he or she is speaking from years of experience.