Fifteen Percent Of Diabetics Will Develop Foot Ulcers

How prevalent are foot ulcers among patients with diabetes? About 2.4 million diabetes patients, representing 15 percent of the estimated 16 million Americans afflicted with the disease, will develop serious foot ulcers during their lifetimes. In fact, ulcers and other foot complications cause 20 percent of the nearly 3 million hospitalizations related to diabetes every year.
John Giurini, DPM, an Associate Professor of Surgery at Harvard University Medical School, reported on these alarming statistics at the recent ACFAS Diabetic Foot Symposium.
“Unfortunately, many of these patients eventually must undergo lower extremity amputations as a result of infection brought on by untreated foot ulcers,” emphasizes Dr. Giurini.
Why do ulcers go untreated? There are a variety of reasons. Often, foot ulcers in diabetic patients are the result of sensory neuropathy, a common complication of the disease. Kenneth Rehm, DPM, also points out that access to professional care may be a problem. Dr. Rehm notes that he practices in a Hispanic rural area in El Centro, Calif., where people do not have easy access to doctors. Therefore, they do not go to doctors unless they perceive they have major problems.
Emphasizing Proactive Measures
While Dr. Rehm says 85 percent of his diabetic patients have ulcerations, he says only about 2 to 5 percent of them end up with lower extremity amputations.
“Because I hospitalize a lot of the ulcers that would eventually wind up as amputations, we are able to head off most of them by taking care of their circulation and infection,” explains Dr. Rehm.
Taking a proactive approach to care is the key. Dr. Giurini says early detection of the risk factors associated with ulcer formation is essential for overall treatment, as it can significantly reduce the incidence of ulcers and eventual amputation.
Richard Brietstein, DPM, a wound specialist who practices in Florida, also sees a large majority of diabetic patients who have foot ulcers. He uses techniques such as aggressive debridement and offloading and says the healing rate at his practice is “exceedingly high” and only 5 percent of his patients need amputations.
Alexander Reyzelman, DPM, the Clinical Director at the Pacific Coast Wound Care Institute, says between 2 and 5 percent of his diabetic patients have ulcerations.
His treatment includes using felt to foam dressings to offload the ulcers along with the use of removable walking boots (Aircast, DH-Walker, etc.). Employing enzymatic debridement agents and bioengineered skin equivalents, Dr. Reyzelman says his success rate at healing these
ulcerations is 95 percent. About 2 to 4 percent of Dr. Reyzelman’s diabetic patients need amputations.
Be Aware Of The Risk Factors
In addition to major risk factors like vascular disease, structural deformities and previous ulcers, environmental or external risks include living alone, frostbite, burns and patients removing calluses and corns themselves.
Dr. Brietstein adds obesity to the list of factors which could lead to ulcers. Dr. Rehm notes some other risk factors are venous insufficiency; pedal edema; depression; kidney disease and dialysis; poor nutrition reflected in the total protein, albumin and prealbumin blood tests; diabetic dermopathy and skin diseases; and being confined to a wheelchair or bed. Dr. Reyzelman says the limitation in joint range of motion “is certainly a risk factor for ulcer formation.”

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