Today roughly 280 people in Australia will develop diabetes. A similar number developed it yesterday, and it will happen again tomorrow. In just 16 years, the number of people in Australia living with diabetes is estimated to almost double, from 1.7 million to 3.3 million. The impact of diabetes can be devastating, leading to upwards of 4,400 amputations per year. Bearing such figures in mind, it is now more important than ever to give Australians the information and education to help prevent type 2 diabetes – which accounts for around 90% of all cases of diabetes – and ensure that those living with it are able to manage the condition.
Why does diabetes lead to amputations?
The vast majority of diabetes-related amputations are performed on toes, feet, and the lower leg. That is because the lower-extremities are often the first part of the body to be affected by nerve damage – one of the most common symptoms of diabetes. Nerve damage restricts or prevents pain signals from reaching the brain, so someone with diabetes may not notice a blister or wound on their foot and continue walking on it. This, combined with poor blood circulation – another common symptom of diabetes – can prevent the wound from healing. This can result in a foot ulcer which, when left untreated, may make an amputation the only course of action.
It is this process that leads to 12 amputations every day across the country. Until changes are made, this figure will only continue to rise.
How can amputations be avoided?
85% of diabetes related amputations are preventable when wounds are discovered early, and treated appropriately. This can be done with simple improvements in one aspect of diabetes management: foot care. Every person living with diabetes should know how to thoroughly inspect their feet, and put this knowledge to use on a daily basis. Unfortunately, not everyone is made aware of the importance of foot care, or may not have the information needed to adequately perform checks. According to Diabetes Australia, there is only one specialist foot care team per one million Australians. Greater access to such teams gives people a more comprehensive understanding and appreciation of foot care, as well as increased access to podiatrists.
A combination of at-home care and specialist check-ups can vastly reduce the number of amputations being performed, improving and saving lives.
Nerve damage and poor circulation are two of the main diabetes symptoms that lead to foot ulcers, and subsequent amputations. They are also symptoms that can be mitigated in those who manage their diabetes well. For those living with type 1, this usually means injecting insulin punctually, and managing blood sugar levels. The latter is far easier said than done, but is crucial in preventing nerve damage and maintaining good circulation.
For those living with type 2 diabetes, a healthy diet, exercise, reducing alcohol intake, and quitting smoking are all sure-fire ways of reversing, preventing, and delaying the effects of diabetes. Medication may also be prescribed, often to increase the body’s receptiveness to insulin. Such medication can only do its job when taken as intended, so adhering to instructions given by a doctor is essential.
Diabetes management, combined with better foot care, can help save a huge portion of the $875 million amputation procedures are estimated to cost the economy each year.
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Preventing the rise of diabetes in Australia
Of course, the ultimate way of preventing diabetes-related amputations is by preventing diabetes itself. Type 1 diabetes is not preventable, and is usually diagnosed at a young age, but type 2 diabetes can usually be prevented or delayed with simple, healthy, lifestyle changes, such as the ones mentioned above. If you think you are at risk, take a look at your state’s prevention programs, which can provide support and information.
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