Nerve damage or diabetic peripheral neuropathy is one of the long-term complication of diabetes. If left untreated, the damage caused by neuropathy can potentially lead to infection and limb amputation.
Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to prevent nerve damage. Along with regular foot checks, controlling your blood sugar levels can improve the symptoms of neuropathy and can delay the progression of nerve damage.
Understanding diabetic peripheral neuropathy
High blood glucose (sugar) levels over an extended period of time can damage the nerves that go to the arms, hands, legs, and feet—these are known as the peripheral nerves.
This damage prevents important nutrients from reaching these areas, as a result the nerves can no longer function properly or disappear.
Diabetic peripheral neuropathy increases the risk for foot ulcers and amputation. People with diabetes that have nerve damage in their feet and toes often don't notice minor cuts, sores, or blisters in these areas.
If left untreated, these small wounds can easily become infected, lead to gangrene, and may eventually require amputation of the affected area.
You are more likely to have diabetic peripheral neuropathy or nerve damage if you smoke and if you have:
- high blood sugar levels
- high triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood)
- excess body weight
- high blood pressure
Nerve damage can cause symptoms in different parts of the body. The most common symptoms are unusual sensations in the toes and feet, such as:
- sharp, shooting pains
- the feeling of being pricked with pins
- numbness (not able to properly feel pain, heat, or cold)
Nerve damage prevention & management
Although there is no cure, there are many ways you can effectively manage or delay diabetic peripheral neuropathy:
- take proper care of your feet
- keep your blood sugar levels in target
- get your feet checked regularly
- ask your doctor about medications options
Take care of your feet
If you already have signs of nerve damage, it's important to examine and care for your feet on a regular basis. This will help you notice and treat issues before they cause more harm.
- Examine your feet and legs daily for cuts or sores
- Care for your nails regularly
- Apply lotion if your feet are dry (but not between the toes)
- Wear properly fitting shoes
- Test your bath water with your hand or elbow before you step in to make sure it’s not too hot
- Do not leave your feet to soak
Keep blood sugar levels in target
Managing your blood sugar levels and keeping them within your target range can help to prevent further nerve damage.
Healthy eating, regular exercise and medications (if applicable) can help you manage your levels and prevent other complications, too.
Get your feet checked regularly
For type 1 diabetes
It is uncommon to have diabetic peripheral neuropathy within the first five years after diagnosis. Testing in adults should begin five years after the onset of type 1 diabetes.
For children with type 1 diabetes, testing should be done once the child is past puberty and has had diabetes for at least five years.
For type 2 diabetes
For people with type 2 diabetes, testing for diabetic peripheral neuropathy should begin right away at diagnosis of diabetes, and every year after that.