The diabetic foot is often associated with patients who are on dialysis for kidney failure as a result of their diabetes. There is a well known ‘triad’ of eyes/kidneys/feet. What health professionals call retinopathy/nephropathy/neuropathy.
We are managing a gentleman who is suffering the effects of many years of poorly-controlled diabetes, acompanied by smoking. The effect of this has been serious damage to the circulation to his legs. As a result, he has needed arterial bypass surgery and now, three times a week he comes to the hospital for dialysis, because his kidneys are malfunctioning,so his specialist asked us to look after his feet.
On first view we got a real shock – the three outer toes on his right foot were dry, shrivelled and black – typical of dry gangrene. These toes will probably fall off by themselves! The back if the left heel is one large blood blister, fortunately it’s dry and not infected.
The principle of managing cases like this is to keep the areas clean and dry. For the patient they have to do their best to control their blood sugar. The targets for good blood sugar control for a person with diabetes are between 5.5 and 7.0 mmol/litre, so you can imagine my concern at the last visit when I found out that this gentleman was running 15mmol/litre.
Every time the dressings are changed there is the opportunity for bacterial infection and high blood sugar usually worsens the situation. Of course the state of the feet and limbs in an obvious potential cause for the raised blood sugar too.
So what’s the lesson? Mismanage diabetes at your peril! Damage to the nerves and circulation will have a major impact on your life the longer you live. The complications of diabetes are largely preventable, yet vast amounts of money are spent worldwide on managing the complications of diabetes.
Control of blood sugar and not smoking will protect both arteries and nerves from serious damage. Nephropathy or damage to kidneys is life threatening and not everybody can access a dialysis unit. Loss of sensation or neuropathy, where there is no sensation in the feet, allows for injuries to happen without the person noticing.
Don’t become a victim of circumstance – take control of your diabetes now – and avoid dialysis later.