Diabetes - 3 warnings signs of vascular disease

Diabetes can put patients at risk for vascular disease and limb loss


CHICAGO, Illinois, November 1, 2018 – People who have type 2 diabetes can live a long and healthy life if they take good care of themselves. But part of staying healthy means knowing how to manage the risk of diabetes-related vascular disease, according to the Society for Vascular Surgery.

In the United States, more than 30 million people live with diabetes. It is a major risk factor for peripheral artery disease or PAD, a disease the results from blockages that develop in the arteries of the legs. When blockages composed of plaque buildup inside leg arteries, it makes them narrow and stiff.

High blood sugar, as seen in diabetes, weakens arteries and makes them vulnerable to plaque buildup. When this happens, it’s difficult for oxygen-rich blood to reach parts of the body. In its most severe form, PAD can result in amputation of the toes, feet or even the leg. Around 80 to 90 percent of all amputations are performed on patients with diabetes.

(Learn more: Download the 2018 SVS patient information flier on diabetes and vascular disease: English / Spanish.)

“Patients with diabetes are at increased risk for developing foot ulcers,” said Dr. Raul Guzman, a member of the Society for Vascular Surgery and a surgeon researcher at Harvard University. Recent findings, reported in the Journal of Vascular Surgery from a research team led by Dr. Marc Schermerhorn, reveal that diabetic patients who require insulin have a higher chance of complications after surgery for PAD.

“We also found that insulin-dependent patients tended to be younger, had more tissue loss at presentation, and suffered from more heart and kidney disease,” said Dr. Guzman, a member of the research team. “Unfortunately, patients who require insulin are more likely to undergo amputation. For this reason, it’s important that we learn more about treating this group of patients so that we can improve their long-term outcomes.”

Even though most patients do not require surgery, vascular surgeons are the specialists most qualified to treat people with peripheral arterial disease.

Because November is Diabetes Awareness Month and because some 7.2 million Americans don’t even know they have diabetes, the Society for Vascular Surgery would like everyone to know how to be aware of the signs of PAD. Signs can include:

  • Pain in the legs that comes on with walking and goes away during rest. Some people who get this kind of pain, called “claudication,” think they just had a cramp and forget about it. Others quit going for walks because their legs hurt. That’s a poor strategy because walking can slow the progression of PAD.

WHAT TO DO: If you have pain in your legs when walking, tell your doctor and ask if it could be a sign of PAD. Even if you have other things to talk about and your doctor is busy, be sure to mention this symptom.

  • Foot sores that don’t heal. Sometimes people with diabetes don’t have sensation in their feet and sometimes complications of diabetes can cause feet to become misshapen, which makes shoes fit poorly, causing sores.

WHAT TO DO: If you have diabetes, check the bottoms of your feet every day. If you get an open sore on your foot, it may heal very slowly or not at all because your foot is not getting enough oxygen due to PAD. Don’t wait; make an appointment with a doctor or foot clinic to have it examined. Foot sores can lead to amputation.

  • A smoking habit or untreated high blood pressure. Both attributes put patients with diabetes at much higher risk of vascular disease.

WHAT TO DO: Ask your doctor for help with smoking cessation. If you have a prescription for blood pressure medicine, be sure to take it as prescribed.

For more information:

Learn more about Peripheral Arterial Disease

Diabetes resources for vascular patients and physicians

Health Statistics: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases