If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes and peripheral neuropathy, a condition that makes it difficult to feel your feet, you’re at risk of developing Charcot foot. This painful condition causes redness, inflammation, and eventually disfigurement of your feet.
At New Canaan Podiatry in New Canaan, Connecticut, board-certified podiatrist Jennifer Tauber, DPM, specializes in diagnosing and treating this rare condition. Since not everyone with diabetes gets Charcot foot, many of our patients wonder if the condition is hereditary.
Keep reading to learn what you need to know about Charcot foot and whether your genes play a role in this debilitating disease.
What is Charcot foot?
Charcot foot is a progressive disease of your foot that affects the strength and integrity of the appendage’s bones, tissues, and joints. The disease, caused mainly by diabetes, weakens your bones, eventually breaking them or pushing them out of place.
If not treated, you can end up with permanent disfiguration of your foot. The bottom of the feet of people with Charcot foot become rocker shaped, putting pressure and stress on the wrong places of your feet.
The result? You develop sores, which can be difficult to heal, increasing your risk of infection. In severe cases, people with Charcot foot must have one or both feet amputated to avoid losing their limbs.
Is Charcot foot hereditary?
No. Charcot foot is a rare and devastating complication of diabetes. However, because Charcot foot (arthropathy) shares a similar name with a hereditary disorder called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, it’s easy to get confused.
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease describes a group of inherited conditions that cause nerve damage, usually in the arms and legs. Having diabetes can speed up this damage, but you can’t get Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease without the inherited genes.
Instead of being passed on from your parents, Charcot foot develops when diabetes or another disease or condition causes mutations in the genes that control your peripheral nerves. Over time, the myelin that covers these nerves breaks down.
This causes your nerves to lose their ability to send signals and communicate. Without these signals, your muscles get weaker and atrophy. You can’t sense heat, pain, or cold, increasing your risk of developing an infection when injured. Obesity can make this condition worse.
Because Charcot foot causes disfigurement of the shape of your foot, your odds of getting these sores are higher than for people with diabetic neuropathy but without Charcot foot. So it’s imperative to see a podiatrist specializing in diabetic foot care, like Dr. Tauber, if you suspect the disease.
How can I tell if I have Charcot foot?
If you have diabetes or peripheral neuropathy, understand the signs of Charcot foot so you can seek early medical intervention. Symptoms of Charcot foot include:
- Redness or warmth in your foot
- Swelling your affected foot or ankle
- Pain or soreness in your foot, especially when standing
- Bony protrusions on the bottom of your foot
- Developing a rocker-shaped bottom foot
Keep in mind that besides diabetes, other conditions that trigger nerve damage can cause Charcot foot, including a past foot infection, alcohol or drug addiction, HIV/AIDS, a foot injury that doesn’t heal, and other diseases, like syphilis or Parkinson’s disease.
Be sure to see a doctor if you have any signs of Charcot foot and have a history of any illness, disease, or addiction that increases your risk of nerve damage.
What should I do if I’m worried about Charcot foot?
Because Charcot foot is a rare disease only affecting about 1 out of every 2.5000 Americans, this condition is frequently misdiagnosed as another foot problem. But early treatment can help prevent disfiguration and amputation.
For this reason, if you have any of the above symptoms, see a podiatrist specializing in diabetic foot care, like Dr. Tauber, for an accurate diagnosis. Depending on your symptoms and the severity of your condition, Dr. Tauber may recommend Charcot foot reconstruction.
Dr. Tauber specializes in Charcot foot reconstruction using external fixation. This minimally invasive procedure offers a strong success rate, with much lower risks than traditional fixation surgery.
During the procedure, Dr. Tauber places an externally fixed frame on your foot, securing the bones. The appliance stays in place for several months while your bones heal and strengthen, allowing you to walk without assistance when we remove the device.
Learn more about Charcot foot or set up an evaluation for the disease by scheduling an appointment online or over the phone with Dr. Tauber at New Canaan Podiatry.