Amputation is one of the most feared complications of people with diabetes, with good reason. It is painful, it is life-altering and it is permanent.
The main cause of lower-leg amputation in diabetes is peripheral neuropathy, a complication that causes nerve damage in the arms and legs. When nerve damage happens, people don’t have proper blood flow to their lower limbs. They can then often develop a wound (ulcer), usually on their foot or leg, as a result of reduced feeling to that area. It’s difficult for the wound to heal because of the decreased blood flow, so it can easily become infected. That’s why amputation of the lower leg (usually below the knee) is often the end result. (For more information about neuropathy, click here.)
At this time, about 2.5 million Canadians are living with diabetes. It is estimated that 345,000 of them will develop a foot or leg ulcer during their lifetime.
The statistics regarding amputation are harrowing. In Canada, diabetes is the leading cause of “non-traumatic” amputation (that is, an amputation that is not the result of trauma or an accident). In Ontario, about 1,500 people with diabetes had a lower limb amputated in 2008 (the latest year for which statistics are available).
Fully 30% of Canadians with diabetes will die within one year of amputation, and 69% of limb amputees with diabetes will not live for more than five years after the procedure. This is higher than the five-year rates of death for breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer.
When people have one leg amputated, it is common for them to lose the second one as well. In fact, more than half (55%) of people require amputation of the second leg within just two or three years of the first one.
The good news about avoiding amputation
So, is there any good news to be had about this topic? On the upside, Canadians with diabetes who see their family doctor or healthcare team at least three times per year are 33% less likely to have a limb amputation. Furthermore, the American Diabetes Association estimates that between 45% and 85% of amputations among people with diabetes could be prevented through a comprehensive foot care program.
The best thing you can do to prevent amputation is to be vigilant about your overall health and your diabetes management. This includes five main initiatives:
- Practice proper foot care
- Eat healthy foods
- Exercise regularly
- Take your diabetes medications as prescribed by your healthcare team
- Visit your healthcare team regularly for a diabetes check-up
- Regular foot care is one of the most important things you can do to protect your feet and legs. Be sure to check your feet every single day. Foot care problems can creep up on you before you know it, so constant attention is the best course of action for people with diabetes. If you notice anything that looks unusual, contact your healthcare team immediately. For information about foot care, visit the Foot Care section of the Diabetes Care Community website. There, you’ll find information about the importance of foot care, how to check your feet, tips about footwear, and much, much more!
If you are unable to check your feet yourself, have a trusted family member help you with it, or do it for you. To help you remember to check your feet every day, set a reminder on your cell phone, or use the handy tracker that’s available at Diabetes Care Community.
- Eating well helps keep your body healthy, and that means you can avoid or delay the complications of diabetes, including amputation of the lower leg. For information about healthy eating, visit the Diabetes Diet section of Diabetes Care Community. There, you’ll find meal planning suggestions, grocery shopping tips, and much, much more!
- Physical activity is also important to keep your body healthy. For information about exercise, visit the Physical Activity section of Diabetes Care Community. There, you’ll find physical activity suggestions, exercise and workout tips, and much, much more!
- Taking your medications as prescribed by your healthcare team is very important. They help to keep your blood glucose levels in their target range. For more information about medications, visit the Medication section of Diabetes Care Community. There, you’ll find information about all the oral and injectable medications used to treat diabetes.
To help you remember to take your medications at the right time each day, set a reminder on your cell phone, or use the handy tracker that’s available at Diabetes Care Community.
- Visit your healthcare team for a diabetes check-up. It is recommended that you see your doctor once a year for a “diabetes-focused” visit, and more often if you have any diabetes complications. At this appointment, your healthcare team will inspect your feet and legs for any problem areas. For more information about communicating with your diabetes healthcare team, click here.
Practice proper foot care so that you can keep your feet and legs healthy, and prevent amputation. Make sure that your feet last a lifetime!