Diabetes and Neuropathy

Over time, diabetes and high blood sugar levels can cause damage to the nerves in your body, a condition called neuropathy.  As many as 70% of people with diabetes have some form of nerve damage.  Diabetic neuropathy and its symptoms can worsen or become permanent with increased blood sugar levels; some symptoms may improve if no permanent damage has occurred.  One type of diabetic neuropathy is autonomic neuropathy, damage to the nerves which supply the internal organs and blood vessels. Another type is peripheral neuropathy, damage to the nerves in your muscles and extremities (feet and legs).

Autonomic Neuropathy

This condition affects your heart.  This can cause a failure in your heart rate or blood pressure to adjust properly, resulting in dizziness and unsteadiness.

Your stomach and digestive system can also be affected.  Changes in the way food is moved throughout the body can cause nausea, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea.

Sexual dysfunction for both men and women can also be a sign of autonomic neuropathy.

Medications and lifestyle changes can help all of these symptoms if caught early enough.

Peripheral Neuropathy

The following symptoms are often associated with peripheral neuropathy:  muscle weakness in the legs, pain in the feet or legs, tingling, burning, or numbness in the feet or hand, and decreased pain sensation and loss of feeling in the feet.

It is important to maintain good blood sugar levels to reduce the likelihood of neuropathy.  As an added precaution, you should also seek the care of a podiatrist about proper foot care.

Proper Foot Care

Diabetes is the leading cause of foot amputations in the country.  Nerve damage and poor circulation can make your feet susceptible to problems such as ulcers and infections that won't heal.  This may also lead to a loss of sensation in the feet, making it difficult to detect pain or heat.  By practicing good preventive foot care and recognizing problems early, almost all foot problems can be avoided.

Keep your blood sugar levels as near to normal as possible.

If you smoke, stop!  Smoking causes atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), raises blood pressure, and decreases blood flow in the feet.

Get physical activity on a regular basis to improve circulation.

Never go barefoot.  Instead wear well-fitting running or walking shoes and good cotton socks.  As a tip, buy shoes at the end of the day when your feet are larger to make sure your shoes fit properly.

Check your shoes every day for foreign objects such as pebbles, and look for worn areas that may cause rubbing or blisters.

Practice good foot hygiene.  Wash your feet every day with mild soap, rinse and dry thoroughly,  and rub in a good moisture cream (but not between the toes).  Check for red areas or cracks between the toes, and trim nails so that the edges are straight across.

Do not use astringents that dry your feet, or use over-the-counter preparations for calluses and corns.  Do not soak your feet or use heating pads.

Have a foot exam at least once a year.  If you have had foot problems, you should have a foot exam at every regular office visit.

Report problems to your health professional immediately, such as cuts or breaks in the skin, changes in color or red spots, or loss of feeling or pain in the feet.

Source:  Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America, Inc.. : , 2002.

Neu*rop"a*thy (?), n. [Neuro- + Gr. , , to suffer.] Med.

An affection of the nervous system or of a nerve.


© Webster 1913.

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