Diabetes mellitus with its resulting neurovascular changes may lead to an increased risk of burns and impaired wound healing. The purpose of this article is to review 10 years of experience with foot and lower leg burns in patients with diabetes at a single adult burn center. Patients with lower extremity burns and diabetes mellitus, between May 1999 and December 2009, were identified in the Trauma Registry of the American College of Surgeons database, and their charts were reviewed for data related to their outcomes. Sixty-eight diabetic patients, 87% male, with a mean age of 54 years, sustained foot or lower extremity burns with 37 having burns resulting from insensate feet. The pathogenesis included walking on a hot or very cold surface (8), soaking feet in hot water (22), warming feet on or near something hot such as a heater (13), or spilling hot water (7). The majority of patients were taking insulin (59.6%) or oral hyperglycemic medications (34.6%). Blood sugar levels were not well controlled (mean glucose, 215.8 mg/dl; mean hemoglobin A1c, 9.08%). Renal disease was common with admission serum blood urea nitrogen (27.5 mg/dl) and creatinine (2.21 mg/dl), and 13 were on dialysis preinjury. Cardiovascular problems were common with 39 (57%) having hypertension or cardiac disease, 3 having peripheral vascular disease, and 9, previous amputations. The mean burn size was 4.2% TBSA (range, 0.5–15%) with 57% being full thickness. Despite the small burn, the mean length of stay was 15.2 days (range, 1–95), with 5.65 days per 1% TBSA. Inability to heal these wounds was evident in 19 patients requiring readmission (one required 10 operative procedures). At least one patient sustained more than one burn. There were 62 complications with 30 episodes of infection (cellulitis, 28; osteomyelitis, 4; deep plantar infections, 2; ruptured Achilles tendon, 1) and 3 deaths. Eleven patients needed amputations (7 below-knee amputations, 4 transmetatarsal amputations, and 20 toe amputations) with several needing revisions or higher amputations. Patients with diabetes have an increased risk for lower extremity complications, but the risk of burns is not well known. The majority of lower extremity burns result from intentional exposure to sources of heat without recognition for the risk of burns. Once a burn occurs, morbidity and cost to the patient and society are severe. Prevention programs should be initiated to make diabetic patients and their doctors aware of the significant risk for burns.
From the Department of Surgery, Firefighters Regional Burn Center, University of California, Davis.
Presented at the 43rd Annual Meeting of the American Burn Association, Chicago, Illinois, March 31, 2011.
Address correspondence to David G. Greenhalgh, MD, FACS, 2425 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento, Sacramento 95817.