Objective: The objective of this study was to determine the effectiveness of treatment of nonhealing heel ulcers and gangrene and to define those variables that are associated with success.
Methods: A multi-institutional review was undertaken at four university or university-affiliated hospitals of all patients with wounds of the heel and arterial insufficiency, which was defined as absent pedal pulses and a decreased ankle/brachial index (ABI). Risk factors, hemodynamic parameters, and arteriographic findings were statistically analyzed to determine their effect on wound healing. Life-table analysis was used to assess graft patency and wound healing.
Results: Ninety-one patients (57 men, 34 women) were treated for heel wounds that did not heal for 1 to 12 months (62% of nonhealing wounds, 3 months or longer). The mean preoperative ABI was 0.51, and 31% of wounds were infected. Of the patients, 55% had impaired renal function (Cr > 1.5), with 24% undergoing dialysis, 70% had diabetes, and 64% smoked cigarettes. Treatment was topical wound care for all patients and operative wound débridement in 50%. Infrainguinal bypass was performed for 81 patients, 4 had inflow procedures, 3 had superficial femoral artery percutaneous transluminal angioplasty, and 3 had primary below-knee amputation. Postoperatively, 85% of patients had in-line flow to the foot with at least a single patent vessel, 66% had a pedal pulse, and the mean ABI improved by 0.40, to 0.91. Follow-up ranged from 1 to 60 months (mean, 21 months), and 77 patients (85%) are currently alive. In 66 patients (73%), the wounds healed-all within 6 months (mean, 3 months). For 14 (16%) the wounds had not healed, and 11 patients (11%) underwent below-knee amputation. By life-table analysis, limb salvage was 86% at 3 years. During follow-up, 75 infrainguinal bypasses (91%) remained patent (3 secondarily) and 6 occluded, with primary assisted patency of 87% at 3 years. All wounds in patients with occluded grafts failed to heal. Variables found to be statistically significant in predicting healing included normal renal function (95% healed vs 55% nonhealed, P <.002), a palpable pedal pulse (85% healed vs 42%, P <.0015), a patent posterior tibial artery past the ankle (86% healed vs 57%, P <.02), and the number of patent tibial arteries after bypass to the ankle (P <.0001). Neither the ABI nor the presence of infection (defined as positive tissue cultures or the presence of osteomyelitis), diabetes, or other cardiovascular risk factors influenced the outcome.
Conclusions: Complete wound healing of ischemic heel ulcers or gangrene may require up to 6 months, and short-term graft patency is of minimal benefit. Successful arterial reconstruction, especially a patent posterior tibial artery after bypass, is effective in treating most heel ulcers or gangrene. Patients with impaired renal function are at increased risk for failure of treatment, but their wounds may successfully heal and they should not be denied revascularization procedures.