You’re probably aware of diabetes and gangrene but do you know the connection?
Without early diagnosis and treatment, gangrene can quickly lead to the need for limb amputation. If you have diabetes, recognizing the symptoms of gangrene and understanding why you face a greater risk of developing it is critical.
What is gangrene?
Gangrene is a condition whereby the skin and soft tissue on a certain part of the body starts to die due to a lack of healthy blood flow. It’s typically found on the extremities of the body such as toes, fingers, feet, and hands – because these are the furthest points that the heart has to pump blood to. Moreover, if there is an obstruction in the artery, the extremities are most likely to receive the least blood flow.
So, what are the symptoms of gangrene?
The main symptoms of gangrene for patients with diabetes to look out for are:
- A loss of color in the part of the body that is affected
- Skin that looks shiny and is shedding
- A change of color in the affected area from red to black
- The area may become painful to the touch
- Any pain that was felt will transition to losing all sensation and ultimately result in tissue death
So, how are diabetes and gangrene connected?
The link between diabetes and gangrene is a condition known as Peripheral Artery Disease or PAD for short. Diabetics are at risk of developing gangrene because they are also more likely to develop PAD.
The link is so strong that people with diabetes are 4 times more likely to develop PAD. than those without diabetes. Furthermore, a report in 2018 revealed that 20-30% of individuals with PAD also had diabetes and with the ever-increasing numbers of PAD patients, this percentage is now likely to be even larger.
PAD, diabetes, and gangrene
Peripheral Artery Disease is one of the most important links between diabetes and gangrene. PAD is caused by atherosclerosis in the arteries and typically occurs in people with poor circulation.
Atherosclerosis refers to a build-up of cholesterol, fats, and other substances on and in the artery walls. This build-up is known as plaque and essentially restricts the blood flow to the organs and tissues that causes patients suffering from diabetes and PAD to have poor circulation. In advanced cases, blood flow can be stopped altogether causing a condition known as critical limb ischemia. Without blood, tissues are deprived of the nutrients and oxygen necessary for survival.
Poor circulation can become a dangerous issue very quickly. Failure to reestablish healthy blood flow in patients with diabetes or PAD can lead to gangrene.
Because peripheral artery disease mainly affects patient’s feet, this is where gangrene is typically found. This is particularly dangerous for diabetic patients who often experience diabetic neuropathy – numbness in the legs and feet caused by nerve damage.
If a patient with diabetes has undiagnosed PAD they can miss the symptoms of gangrene that cause pain because of their neuropathy and would be unaware that they have gangrene until it’s too late and amputation becomes an unavoidable necessity.
So what should patients with diabetes do to avoid gangrene?
If you have diabetes it’s particularly important to examine your feet each day looking for the early signs of gangrene. This is what we term as preventative action because even if you can’t feel the signs of gangrene you will be able to see the physical signs. If you notice any tissue that is grey or black, it’s important to seek immediate medical help.
Restoring blood flow
Restoring blood flow is the best method of eliminating pain and healing foot lesions in patients with critical limb ischemia (the most advanced form of PAD).
Here at the Midwest Institute For Non-Surgical Therapy (MINT) Dr. Goke Akinwande, MD provides several minimally invasive treatments for peripheral arterial disease which include:
- Balloon angioplasty – which flattens the plaque against the arterial wall to restore circulation
- Atherectomy – a device that grinds away and removes plaque
- Stenting – A small mesh tube placed in the artery to hold it open
If you have developed gangrene because of diabetes and PAD, an atherectomy could be the treatment you need.
If you have diabetes then it’s vital to attend regular vascular screening to assess your risk of developing PAD and provide a diagnosis at its early stages. To find out more about screening and the treatment of PAD, call MINT today or book an appointment online.
By taking early and aggressive steps to heal and preserve your lower limbs and extremities, we can help prevent amputation.