Relapse of Charcots osteoarthropathy or infection

A 60-year-old type 1 diabetic of 42 years' duration who had bilateral Charcot's osteoarthropathy affecting both feet and 12 years' previous history of ulcers and infections, was referred to the foot clinic with a hot, swollen left ankle and erythema over the medial malleolus. Both her feet were intact. The left foot was very painful on weightbearing. A provisional diagnosis of infection was made although we could not be sure that this was not a relapse of Charcot's osteoarthropathy. She was given intravenous vancomycin 1 g bd, ceftazidime 1 g tds, metronidazole 500 mg tds and oral fucidin 500 mg tds as she had recently had an MRSA infection. The ankle initially appeared to settle, but after 3 days she developed severe pain in the left foot and ankle at rest, with a fever of 39°C and rigors. She went to theatre and an abscess communicating with the subtalar joint was drained. A swab showed pus cells but no growth. She healed in 4 months, but came back to the foot clinic again with a severely infected toe on her other foot after 2 weeks.

Key points

• Patients with Charcot's osteoarthropathy can occasionally relapse with increased swelling and warmth of the involved foot

• It is difficult to distinguish between relapsed Charcot's osteoarthropathy and infection in an intact foot

• Clinical progress needs to be closely monitored with daily review for specific signs of infection.

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