Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that happens in people who have diabetes. This damage makes it hard for their nerves to carry messages to the brain and other parts of the body.
Portions of this article were developed by the American Academy of Family Physicians in cooperation with the American Diabetes Association.
Diabetic neuropathy can cause the following symptoms:
Diabetes causes the level of sugar in your blood to be higher than normal. Over time, high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels and nerves. That's why people who don't control (or can't control) their blood sugar very well seem more likely to get diabetic neuropathy.
Men are more likely to have diabetic neuropathy than women. High cholesterol levels and smoking also increase your risk.
There is no cure for diabetic neuropathy. Treatment focuses on slowing the development of the condition through controlling blood sugar levels and making lifestyle changes. These lifestyle changes not only help slow nerve damage, but also promote overall health. They include:
Treatment for diabetic neuropathy also focuses on relieving pain and discomfort. There are several medicines available that help ease neuropathy pain. Your doctor will help you decide which is the best for you.
If diabetic neuropathy has damaged the nerves in your legs and feet, you may not be able to feel pain in those parts of your body. This is a problem because pain can be a useful signal. If you have no feeling in your feet, you could have an injury and not know it. In addition, your muscles might atrophy (decrease in size), and make it difficult for you to walk. The skin on your feet might crack and develop sores. If these sores do not heal or become infected, they might need to be treated at a hospital. In severe cases, you may need to have your foot amputated (removed). Because diabetes makes it harder for an injury to heal, it's important to take good care of your feet and prevent injuries in the first place.
The most important thing is to keep your blood sugar under control. Take your medicines and/or insulin exactly as your doctor prescribes. Eat a healthy diet. If you are overweight, ask your doctor to help you lose weight. Get plenty of exercise.
Keep your blood sugar level as close to normal as possible. Also, follow your doctor's advice on diet and exercise. Take your insulin or medicine exactly as prescribed. Here are some other ways to protect your feet:
Your doctor or nurse should check your feet periodically when you go in for a visit. If you are having any problems, such as numbness, sores or ingrown toenails, tell your doctor right away.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff