Research shows that approximately one out of four Americans does not realize that they have diabetes. For this reason, it is often referred to as a “silent” disease.

Diabetes increases the level of glucose, or sugar, in the blood to dangerous levels and can occur in one of two forms:  Type 1 which is genetic, or Type 2 which is largely due to poor diet and unhealthy eating habits. If left untreated, diabetes can have a negative impact on blood vessels and circulation and lead to serious conditions like atherosclerosis, PAD (peripheral artery disease), and even stroke or heart attack.

How does diabetes affect blood vessels?

Higher levels of glucose in the blood can cause plaque to build up in arteries, making it difficult for blood to efficiently pump through the arteries and reach areas like the eyes, legs, feet, and kidneys. This plaque build-up, or hardening of the arteries, is known as atherosclerosis.

When these blockages develop in arteries or blood vessels supporting the legs and feet it is known as PAD.

“PAD is extremely common in diabetics,” says CTVS board-certified vascular surgeon Dr. Nicolas Zea. “Untreated PAD can cause serious ulcers or non-healing wounds on the legs or feet, infection or gangrene, and unfortunately even loss of limbs.”

Dr. Zea reassures patients that there are many treatment options to effectively manage glucose levels and diabetic complications like PAD, but it is important to recognize risk factors for the disease first so that you are aware if you have it.

What are risk factors or warning signs of diabetes?

Since blood sugar levels (via the HbA1c test) are not routinely administered at regular check-ups, Dr. Zea and our team of vascular specialists recommend getting screened for diabetes if you experience or meet the following criteria:

  1. Excessive thirst, frequent urination, sudden weight loss, or extreme fatigue or irritability
  2. Wounds on the legs or feet that are slow to heal or never heal at all
  3. You are of Native American, African American, or Asian American descent.
  4. You are a smoker

CTVS offers the following therapeutic options to treat diabetic complications such as PAD and prevent limb loss/amputation:

  • Medical therapy: CTVS works with various healthcare providers to coordinate medication management and offer counseling for tobacco cessation and exercise therapy.
  • Arteriogram: a minimally-invasive procedure to restore blood flow to legs and feet performed in our Vascular Interventional Suite, keeping patients out of the hospital.
  • Surgical revascularization: bypass surgery performed in the legs to open up arteries and blood vessels when less invasive options are not feasible.
  • Wound care: CTVS works with podiatrists and other wound care specialists to promote wound healing and preserve tissue.

For questions about treatment for PAD and other diabetic complications, or for any of our cardiac, vascular, orthoracic services, please visit or call us at (512) 459-8753 to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified specialists.

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