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The Link Between Diabetes and Vascular Disease

Many healthcare professionals consider diabetes to be at epidemic levels in the U.S. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), almost 30 million Americans suffer from diabetes, which affects health and quality of life.

As a physician who treats peripheral artery disease (PAD), Dr. Russell Lam is especially concerned about its link to diabetes. The ADA estimates that about one out of every three people age 50+ with diabetes has some form of blood vessel disease. Though many people are aware that diabetes is a major contributing factor to heart attack and stroke, it is less commonly known that it plays a significant role in PAD as well.

Some medical professionals refer to this condition as diabetic vascular disease because over time, chronic diabetes can permanently damage the blood vessels anywhere in the body, from the legs, to the kidneys to the eyes.

Diabetic vascular disease causes poor circulation in the legs, making it painful to walk and leading to foot sores and ulcers. At this stage, tissue death or gangrene can occur resulting in amputation.

About 60 percent of the non-traumatic lower-limb amputations performed in the U.S. every year are a result of diabetes. People with diabetes are more likely than anyone else to have a toe, foot or leg amputated.

Diabetes & Blood Sugar

To understand how diabetes affects the blood vessels, it’s important to have a basic understanding of what causes diabetes.

The body produces a hormone called insulin, which converts the food we eat into glucose or sugar. When you have diabetes, the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or can’t use the insulin properly.

Over time, high levels of glucose can build up in the bloodstream, causing atherosclerosis – a condition in which narrowing or blockage occurs in the arteries. This leads to reduced levels of blood and oxygen reaching the tissues and organs, causing further harm to the body.

What Can You Do To Lower Your Risk?

One of the most important steps to reducing the risk of diabetic vascular disease is making sure your blood sugar levels are always within safe, acceptable levels. Maintaining healthy body weight and regular exercise can help control blood sugar levels as can avoiding smoking and working with your doctor to manage high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

In addition to taking steps to better manage diabetes, it’s vital that patients with diabetic vascular disease be vigilant about caring for their feet. Good foot care is essential in preventing sores and ulcers, which can lead to amputation.

Foot care checklist:

  • Check daily your feet daily for cuts, blisters, sores or swelling; use a mirror to see the bottom of the feet
  • Protect the skin by gently washing and drying your feet daily, then applying lotion
  • Keep the toenails trimmed or ask the doctor to trim them
  • Don’t walk barefoot; wear comfortable well-fitting shoes
  • Avoid subjecting your feet to extreme temperatures, especially hot water in the bathtub.

Treatment for Diabetic Vascular Disease

Sometimes standard treatment for PAD, such as angioplasty and stenting, or peripheral artery bypass surgery, may be more difficult for people with diabetic vascular disease. Dr. Lam now offers an FDA-approved alternative – Spectranetics excimer laser atherectomy.

Spectranetics excimer laser atherectomy uses ultraviolet energy to vaporize or “photo-ablate” any blockages that are preventing proper blood circulation to the legs and feet. Once the blockage is cleared, the surgeon can guide a catheter through the blood vessel and restore blood flow to the tissues, thus preventing the potential risk of amputation.

Diabetes and PAD are challenging conditions, but with proper treatment and management, good health can be maintained. For more information, please call Lam Vascular at 214-345-4160 or contact us, here.

The information contained in this article is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice. Patient results will vary based on risk factors, age, disease and medical history and are not guaranteed in any way.


The information contained in this website is neither intended to dictate what constitutes reasonable, appropriate or best care for any given health issue, nor is it intended to be used as a substitute for the independent judgment of a physician for any given health issue. Patient results will vary based on risk factors, age, disease and medical history. Please seek physician's advice. Like any procedure, it may come with benefits, risks or side effects associated. Click here for additional information.

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