Every year more than 8,000 people in the UK have a leg, foot or toe amputated because of diabetes complications.
Diabetic foot disease is one of the most common reasons someone with diabetes is admitted to hospital and over 70,000 people with diabetes will have a foot ulcer in any given week.
But research is helping to improve treatment for patients, says Jenna Tilbury.
Highly Specialist Podiatrist Jenna is based at North Manchester General Hospital’s diabetes centre, which brings together specialists including consultants and diabetes nurses, research staff, vascular, diet and eye experts.
Podiatry (foot care) for people with diabetes is one of the most overlooked complications of diabetes management. Foot ulcers affect people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes as high blood glucose over a long period of time can lead to peripheral arterial disease (leg circulatory disease) and neuropathy (reduced sensation). Because of this, people may not realise they have small foot wounds and leave them untreated, risking further damage.
Alarmingly, a shallow ulcer can deteriorate very rapidly and develop infection with complications such as gas gangrene, abscess and bone infection – an untreated ulcer can become so serious that it leads to amputation within a few days.
Jenna said: “Foot problems have a huge impact for people with diabetes. At the diabetes centre our multi-disciplinary team see people with non-healing ulcers or where there is suspicion of bone infection or Charcot foot – those with acute and chronic diabetic foot problems.
“Our key aim is to avoid amputation where possible and the research we are involved in as podiatrists contributes to improving processes and treatments for our patients.”
Among the research Jenna is currently involved in is the MIDFUT study comparing different treatments and combinations of treatments for chronic foot ulcers.
A previous study, CODIFI, helped to change routine practice in diabetic clinics as it found taking tissue samples from foot ulcers identified pathogens (a bacteria, virus or other microorganism that causes disease) more frequently than wound swabs.
A follow-up to this study will start at North Manchester soon, testing whether the information from tissue samples helps clinicians to better match antibiotics to the infection and helps the ulcer heal faster.
Jenna added: “We can have a real impact on improving care for our patients through research. It is hugely important that our patients get the right help at the right time to avoid these very serious complications.”