Duke Ahn, M.D.(Board Certified in Orthopaedic Surgery)

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Understanding Diabetic Foot Disorders

Preserving Life and Limb

Diabetes is a worldwide epidemic. Although the cause of diabetes is still unknown, we are learning more and more every day about this disease and the health problems it can create when not managed properly. According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 7% of Americans have diabetes — that’s 20 million people. Many don’t even know they have it.


To understand diabetes is to understand a complex system of causes and effects — a lot like a row of dominoes standing on end. A person with diabetes cannot properly process food into energy. Their bodies just don’t produce enough of the hormone insulin to convert sugar into energy. This results in high blood sugar levels that can compromise the body’s intricate system of veins and arteries. The resulting poor circulation causes a host of serious conditions including the potential for blindness, kidney failure, heart disease and nerve damage, especially in the feet. Nerve damage desensitizes feet, leaving room for problems that go undetected so long that they cannot heal. In severe cases, the only option for some foot infections and other diabetic foot disorders is amputation.


How Can You Prevent the Domino Effect?

This website will answer some of the questions you may have about how diabetes may affect your feet and how you can help to protect yourself from serious foot problems. It also will help you better understand what to expect if you do develop foot disorders.


Why Focus on the Foot?

Normal, healthy feet will show wear and tear as we age. Our feet change over time, losing some of the padding that once cushioned our steps. For those with diabetes, there really is no such thing as normal wear and tear. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with diabetes, you should be aware of potential problems and how to avoid them. Together, we can minimize the chances of a diabetic foot disorder from getting a “toehold” in your life.


What Are the Most Common Diabetic Foot Disorders?

Peripheral Neuropathy

Diabetes damages the nerves that help you detect sensations like pain. This nerve damage, or neuropathy, often affects peripheral body tissue first. Peripheral neuropathy may first appear as tingling or numbness in your fingers and toes. Over time, the nerve damage causes a lack of feeling in the toes and feet. The lack of feeling in the foot opens the door for many problems — ulcers of the foot tissue, infections, and, in severe cases, amputations of the toes, feet and legs.

As part of your diabetes management, be sure to have your physician carefully examine your feet every year. For some patients, feeling in the feet can be restored through new surgical techniques that alleviate pressure on compressed nerves.

Foot Ulcers

Diabetic ulcers are sores that develop in the soft tissue of the foot usually as a result of minor skin trauma or cumulative trauma in patients with loss of sensation in the foot. The lack of normal feeling in the foot means that these sores can exist without your feeling them. Ulcers are a leading cause of diabetic infections that if unresolved can lead to amputation of the affected limb. These ulcers will not heal on their own. If left untreated, the resulting infection may progress and can lead to increasingly extensive amputation the longer it goes untreated. Unfortunately, in many patients an amputation on one leg is followed within just a few years by amputation of the other.

Early detection of these ulcers can be critical in helping to prevent these amputations. By regularly visiting your foot and ankle specialist, frequently checking yourself, and seeking quick treatment for ulcers, you will be helping to prevent foot ulcers from compromising your mobility and your quality of life.