What is Charcot foot?

Charcot foot is a rare but serious complication that can affect persons with peripheral neuropathy, especially those with diabetes mellitus. Charcot affects the bones, joints, and soft tissues of the foot or ankle. The bones become weak and can break and the joints in the foot or ankle can dislocate. If not caught in its earliest stage, the joints in the foot collapse and the foot eventually becomes deformed. A deformed foot can cause pressure sores to develop in the foot or ankle. An open wound with foot deformity can lead to an infection and even amputation.

Who gets Charcot foot?

Charcot foot develops in persons who have peripheral neuropathy. This is a condition in which the nerves in the lower legs and feet have been damaged. The damage causes a loss of sensation in the feet.

What are the signs of Charcot foot?

In the early stages, the foot is red, feels warm to the touch, and there is significant swelling of the extremity.

What causes Charcot foot?

Researchers have not found one, single cause for Charcot foot. But there are certain known events that create the right conditions for it to develop. One common known event is an unrecognized sprain or injury. Because the individual has peripheral neuropathy, they cannot feel pain or other sensations and the injury can go unnoticed. If a broken bone in the foot or ankle is not correctly treated, the deformity can worsen, lead to foot sores and infection. Charcot foot has also been seen as a complication following organ transplantation in patients with diabetes. (This is due to the use of drugs to prevent organ rejection, which also have the side effect of causing bone loss and fractures.)

When the midfoot is involved in Charcot foot, the arch collapses, which rounds the bottom of the foot. This is called a rocker-bottom foot deformity. Depending on the location of the bone break, the toes can start to curve under like claws or the ankle can become deformed and unstable.

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