Researchers from the University of Bristol, UK, have discovered why patients with diabetes develop a condition which leads to amputation of the lower limbs. It is caused by an alteration in their skin tissue before leg ulcers develop.

It is not uncommon for a person with Diabetes Type 2 to develop an ulcer in the lower limb which does not heal. Eventually, the condition becomes such that the only effective treatment is to amputate below the knee.

The best way to prevent an ulcer complication is to lower the patient’s blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol. The problem is the condition is often undetected at its early stages. So, effective treatment can sometimes arrive too late.

About 15% of people with diabetes who have a foot ulcer will need an amputation.

People most at risk of ulcers that lead to limb loss are those with Type 2 diabetes (or adult onset of Type 2).

In this study, scientists examined 14 patients with diabetes who had had an amputation below the knee. Skin tissue from their two legs were compared – the leg with the amputation below the knee and the healthy leg.

They found that the leg with the amputation below the knee had problems with the connective tissue that supports the skin – the skin had changed. Tissue was being renewed at a much faster rate leading to abnormal collagen. The skin, being weaker, was breaking down faster – a condition which allows ulcers to form more easily.

Now that we know why ulcers can happen, it may become easier to find ways of offering treatments which prevent the ulcer from developing in the first place.

Understanding what happens in the tissue could allow doctors to develop treatments which prevent ulcers developing, and therefore help patients avoid amputations.

Dr. J Tarlton, lead researcher said the results of the study have opened up new avenues that previously nobody knew existed. He, and his team, believe the principles of this research could be applied to other disorders where the tissues are affected by oxygen deficiency, such as ischaemic heart disease.

Dr. Tarlton added that more research is required to understand how widespread this problem is. He believes this breakthrough will mean that ways can be found to improve the quality of a great many people’s lives.

Written by: Christian Nordqvist
Editor: Medical News Today