Each day, approximately 500 Americans lose a limb, resulting in upwards of 185,000 amputations in the U.S. each year. More than half of these losses are caused by vascular disease, including diabetes and peripheral arterial disease, according to the Amputee Coalition. In fact, people with diabetes are significantly more likely to have a foot or leg amputated than the general population due to preventable foot or leg wounds and their improper care.
In Arizona alone, nearly 700,000 (12.5 percent) of the population have diabetes. Of these, an estimated 172,000 have diabetes, but don’t know it, putting their health at risk, while an astonishing 1.8 million have prediabetes.
The most common chronic wounds caused by diabetes are foot ulcers, which are open sores or wounds typically found on the bottom of the feet. Foot ulcers are responsible for more hospitalizations and amputations than any other complication of diabetes. In fact, up to 24 percent of patients who develop a foot ulcer will require an amputation. Non-healing wounds can also manifest themselves as lower leg ulcers, venous stasis ulcers, arterial (ischemic) ulcers, bone infections, gangrene, skin tears and lacerations, radiation burns and post-operative infections. A variety of factors can cause ulcers, including poor circulation, foot deformities, irritation such as friction or pressure, and trauma.
The Wound Care Centers at Tempe St. Luke’s Hospital and St. Luke’s Medical Center are using April’s Limb Loss Awareness Month and Foot Care Awareness Month to bring greater attention to diabetes-related limb loss. Each center has a team of medical experts with extensive knowledge in all areas of wound care management. In addition to tending to wounds, the two Valley hospitals use the latest revascularization procedures, treatments and technologies to help people heal and restore the function of their limbs so that an amputation does not become necessary.
“For the vast majority of people, diabetes-related amputations are preventable,” said John Jackman, Director of St. Luke’s Medical Center’s Wound Care Center. “If you have diabetes, it’s important to inspect your feet every day for open sores or wounds, seek care early on if you have a foot injury, and stay on top of your blood glucose levels.”
Jackman – along with the Wound Care Center’s team of general surgeons, trauma surgeons, plastic and vascular surgeons, infectious disease physicians, podiatrists, ostomy nurses, certified nurse practitioners, as well as certified wound specialists – shared some additional tips to help people with diabetes keep their feet and legs healthy and care for their wounds to ultimately prevent diabetes-related amputations. Among the suggestions:
- Wear proper footwear. Footwear should be comfortable, but tight enough so that the shoe doesn’t rub against the skin. Orthopedic shoes, which can be made to fit the size and shape of your feet, can also help.
- Inspect your feet daily. People with diabetes typically have reduced sensitivity in their feet and may be less aware of pain. Keep an eye out for cuts, cracks, blisters or scrapes that could be the start of a wound.
- Keep your feet clean. Wash your feet with mild soap and moisturize them every day. It’s a great way to keep callouses in check, too.
- Take care trimming nails and treating cuts, scrapes or blisters. Cut toenails straight across, and avoid cutting into the corners of the toes. Ingrown toenails often result in infection; left untreated, they could be the beginning of a serious medical problem.
- Seek medical attention if a wound does not heal or show signs of infection. Addressing a wound right away is especially important for a person with diabetes. The Wound Care Center team has access to many resources and technologies that can potentially increase the chance of saving a limb.
“What’s especially alarming is that nearly half of the individuals who have an amputation due to vascular disease will die within five years,” said Jackman. “This is significantly higher than the five-year mortality rates for breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer.”
St. Luke’s Medical Center and Tempe St. Luke’s Hospital Wound Care Centers are affiliated with Healogics, the nation’s largest provider of advanced wound care services. With more than 800 Wound Care Centers® in its network, Healogics utilizes an evidence‐based systematic approach to chronic wound healing to treat underserved and growing patient populations.
The two hospitals also use the expertise of a multidisciplinary team of physicians — including wound-certified physicians, endovascular doctors and podiatrists — along with the latest innovations in technology and medicine through a SL2 Program, which delivers a highly-effective limb-preserving approach for at-risk patients. The SL2 Program provides total patient-centered care and education aimed at saving limbs, and ultimately, saving and improving lives.