A great deal of emphasis, clinical and financial, is placed on limb salvage efforts in diabetic patients suffering from lower extremity ulceration. This is because of the impression that amputation in such patients may be a proximal cause of death. While amputation is certainly a negative clinical outcome, it is not entirely clear that it causes death. In this systematic review, we examine the available literature to attempt to understand the role that the ulceration itself may play in mortality. In brief, we searched for human studies in OVID, CINAHL and the COCHRANE CENTRAL DATABASE from 1980 to 2013, looking for articles related to ulcer or wound of the foot, in patients with diabetes or peripheral vascular disease, and death. We looked for articles with 5 years of follow-up, or Kaplan-Meier estimates of 5-year mortality, and excluded reviews and letters. Articles were assessed for quality and potential bias using the Newcastle-Ottawa scale. We find that while the patient populations studied varied widely in terms of demographics and comorbidities, limiting generalisability, 5-year mortality rates after ulceration were around 40%. Risk factors for death commonly identified were increased age, male gender, peripheral vascular disease and renal disease.
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