Many people suffering from foot and leg pain falsely attribute their aches to temporary discomfort or simply growing old, when something far more serious — and often preventable — is frequently taking place.
People that neglect foot and leg pain — particularly the 20.8 million people in the United States with diabetes — can be at risk for amputation. This neglect has contributed to a sharp rise in amputations, with the Centers for Disease Control finding the number of diabetes-related lower limb amputations to have increased by 227 percent between 1980 (33,000) and 2003 (75,000).
Diabetics are prone to amputation as the condition often causes blood vessels in the foot and leg to narrow. The resulting poor circulation makes diabetics susceptible to infection and increases the difficulty for these wounds to heal. In fact, nine out of 10 non-traumatic lower extremity amputations are instigated by an infection, according to a study led by Texas A&M University. The American Diabetes Association says that diabetes is the most frequent cause of non-traumatic lower limb amputations.
The unfortunate result of these trends is that each year, 75,000 people lose a foot, leg or toe due to diabetes, and 85 percent of these losses could have been avoided, according to the International Diabetes Federation.
Common Warning Signs
The frequent culprit of diabetic amputations is peripheral arterial disease (PAD), in which plaque blocks foot or leg arteries, resulting in pain, development of ulcers and onset of limb loss. According to the American College of Cardiology, common symptoms of PAD include:
- Discomfort, cramping or heaviness in the toes, feet or legs
- Poorly healing or non-healing wounds on the toes, feet or legs
- Walking impairment
- Pain at rest that is localized to the lower leg or foot
- Abdominal pain that is provoked by eating
- Familial history of a first-degree relative with an abdominal aortic aneurysm
“Among all the complications from diabetes, amputation can be the worst,” said Dr. Craig Walker, a clinical investigator and cardiologist at the Cardiovascular Institute of the South, in Houma, La. “Amputation affects a person’s quality of life drastically, from mobility to self-image. It is also associated with a decreased life expectancy. But, many amputations can be avoided by simply monitoring the symptoms and talking to a physician about your pain.”