Diabetes-Related Amputations on the Rise in Older Adults

Andrew D. Bowser

June 26, 2020

The recent resurgence in diabetes-related lower-extremity amputations in the United States is not limited to younger adults, according to the author of a recent study that documents similar increases among an older population of Medicare beneficiaries.

While the rate of amputations fell among these older adults from 2000 to 2009, it increased significantly from 2009 to 2017, albeit at a "less severe rate" than recently reported in younger populations, said study investigator Jessica Harding, PhD.

The rate of nontraumatic lower extremity amputation (NLEA) was ticking upward by more than 1% per year over the 2009-2017 period, according to Dr. Harding, assistant professor in the department of surgery at Emory University, Atlanta.

This latest report follows one from last year, published in Diabetes Care, that documented an annual percentage increase approaching 6% between 2009 and 2015, driven by larger increases among adults 18-64 years of age, as well as an increase among men.

It's not clear why rates of NLEA would be on the rise among younger and older adults in the United States, Dr. Harding said, though factors she said could be implicated include changes in amputation practice, increased comorbidities, higher insulin costs, or shortcomings in early prevention programs.

"We need large-scale studies with granular data to tease out key risk factors that could help identify the drivers of these increases in amputations," Dr. Harding said in a presentation at the virtual annual scientific sessions of the American Diabetes Association.

"In the interim, increased attention to preventive foot care across the age spectrum could benefit adults with diabetes," she added.

Devastating Complication in Older Adults

The latest findings from Dr. Harding and coauthors emphasize the importance of a "team approach" to early prevention in older adults with diabetes, said Derek LeRoith, MD, PhD, director of research in the division of endocrinology, diabetes, and bone diseases with Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.

"If you take a 75-year-old or even an 80-year-old, their life expectancy can still be a good 10 years or more," Dr. LeRoith said in an interview. "We shouldn't give up on them – we should be treating them to prevent complications."

Lower-extremity amputation is a "particularly devastating" complication that can compromise mobility, ability to exercise, and motivation, according to Dr. LeRoith, lead author of a recent Endocrine Society clinical practice guideline that urges referral of older adults with diabetes to a podiatrist, orthopedist, or vascular specialist for preventive care.

"Quite often, treating their glucose or high blood pressure will be much more difficult because of these changes," he said.

Lower Extremity Amputation Trends Upward

Rates of NLEA declined for years, only to rebound by 50%, according to authors of a recent analysis of Nationwide Inpatient Sample (NIS) data reported last year. In their report, the age-standardized diabetes-related NLEA rate per 1,000 adults with diabetes went from 5.30 in 2000, down to 3.07 in 2009/2010, and back up to 4.62 by 2015 (Diabetes Care. 2019 Jan;42:50-4).

The resurgence was fueled mainly by an increased rate of amputations in younger and middle-aged adults and men, and through increases in minor amputations, notably the toe, according to the investigators. "These changes in trend are concerning because of the disabling and costly consequences of NLEAs as well as what they may mean for the direction of efforts to reduce diabetes-related complications," authors of that report said at the time.

In the current study, Dr. Harding and colleagues included Medicare Parts A and B claims data for beneficiaries enrolled from 2000 to 2017. There were 4.6 million Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries with diabetes in 2000, increasing to 6.9 million in 2017, she reported at the virtual ADA meeting.

Rates of NLEA followed a trajectory similar to what was seen in the earlier NIS report, falling from 8.5 per 1,000 persons in 2000 to 4.4 in 2009, for an annual percentage change of –7.9 (P < .001), Dr. Harding said. Then rates ticked upward again, to 4.8 in 2017, for an annual percentage change of 1.2 over that later period (P < .001).

While the trend was similar for most subgroups analyzed, the absolute rates were highest among men and black individuals in this older patient population, reported Dr. Harding and coauthors.

Dr. Harding said she and coauthors had no disclosures related to the research, which was performed as a collaboration between Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Division of Diabetes Translation.

SOURCE: Harding J. ADA 2020, Abstract 106-OR.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com.

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