Charcot's Foot: A Foot Complication Caused by Clogged Blood Vessels
Most of us know that people with diabetes are prone to getting clogged arteries. But this is often portrayed as being caused by a build up of cholesterol in the large arteries of the heart, which doctors treat by prescribing statins. (Whether this works is discussed in great detail HERE.)
But what most people with diabetes don't understand is that damage to your blood circulation which causes the worst diabetic complications comes not from having high cholesterol, but from the toll high blood sugars take on the tiny capillaries that carry blood, oxygen, and immune system cells throughout all our tissues, including our nerves, bones, tendons, kidneys, and retinas.
Prolonged exposure to high blood sugars cause sugars to bond to the walls of tiny blood vessels which stiffen and narrow to where blood and immune system cells can't pass through them. Over time capillaries become incapable of carrying nutrients to your cells. Nerves die when capillaries don't bring them enough oxygen and nutrients. Tendons become brittle, kidneys stop filtering our urine, retinas grow a tangled network of fragile new blood vessels to replace the ones that don't work which rupture, causing blindness, and feet become gangrenous.
But one of the more serious diabetic complications that afflicts those who have experienced years of exposure to very high blood sugars--and one that few people know about, including many doctors--is Charcot's Foot.
In this condition, the long bones of the foot which have been deprived of nutrients because of damage to the circulatory system (and possibly to the nerves) break, causing the foot to collapse. This condition is crippling and can lead to gangrene because damage to the circulatory system also keeps the immune system from sending infection-fighting cells to the foot.
This complication usually occurs only after you have experienced decades of exposure to very high blood sugars. So if you are newly diagnosed it isn't something to worry about every time you feel a twinge in your foot. But it is a very good reason to ensure that you don't expose your circulatory system to decades of exposure to blood sugars that can cause this kind of damage.
Keeping your blood sugars under 140 mg/dl at all times will prevent this and other complications from developing. You can learn more about how you can do this, and join many thousands of people with diabetes who have already done this, by following the technique you'll see described HERE.
But you have already had diabetes for a decade or more and have been a victim of mediocre care that let you maintain fasting blood sugars well over 140 mg/dl and A1cs above 7% or worse, damage to your bones may be underway. If so, take foot pain seriously and get help. Many family doctors are not familiar with this complication and may ignore it until you have no option left but amputation.
Help is available, even if Charcot's Foot is developing. Dr. Richard K. Bernstein reports in his book, Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution:
that he reversed early changes associated with this complication by lowering his blood sugar to normal levels.
Even if your foot has progressed to where you have been told you need an amputation because of the damage to your bones, there are clinics that specialize in preventing amputation, and they are having success in treating Charcot's Foot with new treatments that can preserve your foot.
You can read about Charcot's Foot and the treatments that can heal it in this excellent article:
Science Daily: Crippling Condition Associated With Diabetes Is Often Misdiagnosed and Misunderstood.
The article in Diabetes Care cited in the Science Daily article, which discusses this condition in more technical terms, can be found at the link below.The full text should be available for free after April 1, 2012.
The Charcot Foot in Diabetes. Lee C. Rogers, et al., Diabetes Care September 2011 34:2123-2129