As Life-Threatening as a Heart Attack or Stroke
Diabetes is major health issue in the United States, and in the southeast, approximately 15 percent of the population is diabetic. It’s known that diabetes doubles the risk for heart disease in men and triples the risk of heart disease in women. And in Hamilton County, there are approximately 55,000 people living with this dangerous and potentially life-threatening condition. When it comes to appropriate diabetes care, there’s a lot to do – control blood sugar, watch out for eye problems and monitor foot infections.
“There are more than 1,000 people in Hamilton County with sores on their feet, which is a bigger problem that many people might think,” says Michael Greer, M.D., vascular surgeon with University Surgical Associates. “Many people have toes, or feet or legs amputated that could have been saved with proper care, and it’s a personal mission of mine to raise awareness with patients and physicians alike.”
According to Dr. Greer, there are two main problems that are impacting people with diabetes – lack of education about the condition and poor access to healthcare coverage due to financial considerations. These factors are also proven to be related to more frequent foot ulcers and complications. Many people do not understand the seriousness of these problems or how they can lead to foot amputations and even premature death!
“Diabetic foot ulcers are an important event in a diabetic’s life since only 60 percent of these patients will survive 5 years. The 5-year survival rate of a diabetic foot ulcer is worse than breast or prostate cancer – but this can be improved with appropriate medical care,” says Charles Joels, M.D., vascular surgeon with University Surgical Associates. “People with diabetic foot ulcers also have a higher risk of premature death which is secondary to heart disease. Many are asymptomatic – meaning they are not aware of having this disease.”
Who’s at highest risk for a diabetic foot ulcer? People who are on insulin, smoke, are obese or consume alcohol are at highest risk. Individuals of Native American, African American or Hispanic descent also have increased risk. The longer a person has diabetes, the greater their risk for developing a diabetic foot ulcer.
What can be done?The first step in counteracting the negative effects of diabetes is controlling blood sugar through a combination of lifestyle changes, proper diet and regular exercise. Stopping smoking and drinking alcohol, weight loss and regular medical checkups are also vital to your health. Lastly, reporting any signs or symptoms about your feet – like an ulcer, blister, black spot or break in the skin – should be a high priority.
“Any injury to the foot, no matter how small, should be evaluated by your physician, because small problems are much easier to treat than major infections,” says Dr. Greer. “Because people with diabetes have less sensation in their feet due to neuropathy, it’s important to look closely for these injuries every day. If you can’t see well, then have a family member look for you. By acting quickly and talking with your doctor, you could do more than quickly heal a sore – you could save a limb!”
To schedule an evaluation with one of University Surgical's diabetic wound specialists, call (423) 267-0466.