The rate of foot and leg amputations as a result of diabetes have has fallen by more than half since the mid-1990s, according to new government research released on Tuesday.

Amputations were once a common fate for diabetics, but health officials said that the rate of foot and leg amputations among diabetes patients aged 40 and older fell by 65 percent between 1996 and 2008, according to a data analysis by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rate of non-traumatic lower-limb amputations among diabetics was 3.9 per 1,000 in 2008 compared to 11.2 per 1,000 in 1996. The data analysis came from the National Hospital Discharge Survey.

Non-traumatic lower-limb amputations are common among people with circulation problems and nerve damage in the lower limbs that result in numbness, sores and infections, whereas traumatic amputations are caused by injuries.

Previous diabetes studies have shown drops in toe, foot and leg amputations, but none were as dramatic as the new study.

According to 2008 statistics, the rate of diabetes-related leg and foot amputations was more than three times the rate for men at 6 per 1,000 compared to women at 1.9 per 1,000. The rate was nearly double for blacks at 4.9 per 1,000 compared to whites at 2.9 per 1,000. The rate of amputations was the highest for adults aged 75 and older at 6.2 per 1,000 compared to all other age groups.

The study showed that in 2008 the rate of non-traumatic lower-limb amputations was eight times higher in people diagnosed with diabetes compared to those without the disease.

Researchers attribute the drop in lower-limb removals in diabetics to improvements in blood sugar control, foot care and diabetes treatment as well as declines in cardiovascular disease.

Researchers Urge Disparity Reduction

Researchers said that although the significant drop in amputations among U.S. diabetes patients is encouraging, more work should be done to reduce disparities among certain populations.

"We must continue to increase awareness of the devastating health complications of diabetes. Diabetes is the leading cause of lower-limb amputations in the United States," study co-author Nilka Rios Burrows, an epidemiologist with CDC's Division of Diabetes Translation, said in a CDC news release.

Experts say that health care providers should continue to prevent peripheral vascular disease, lower extremity ulcers and infections and improve on treating these issues before they develop into severe infections that require amputation.

The study was published on Tuesday by the medical journal Diabetes Care.

Diabetes is a disease that causes sugar to build up in the blood. About 10 percent of Americans is diagnosed with diabetes and the disease is the seventh leading cause of death, according to the CDC.

Possible Reasons for Decline

Burrows said that researchers are unsure about why rates of amputations fell so dramatically among diabetics. She noted that the number of people with diabetes more than tripled over the two decades foot and leg amputations fell after 1996.

However, the noted that the decade in which amputation rates began dropping coincided with improvements in patient monitoring and education as well as when Medicare started covering blood sugar monitoring and protective shoes and other medical devices for older diabetic patients.

Health officials also saw more diabetics getting annual foot exams and speculated that the decline was mainly due to enhanced care.

Burrows added that another factor could be that more diabetics are being diagnosed earlier and have milder forms of the disease.