It has been estimated that within 10 years of the onset of the condition, 40% to 50% of people with diabetes will have damage to the nerves that help us feel, touch, and experience pain.
Diabetes is a disorder caused by an excessive amount of glucose (blood sugar) in the bloodstream, which can damage nerves and lead to the condition called diabetic neuropathy. Additional factors that may increase the risk for diabetic neuropathy include increased triglyceride levels (a type of fat), excess body weight, smoking, and high blood pressure. People who have had diabetes for a long period of time, and who are older, are more likely to have diabetic neuropathy.
Diabetic neuropathy causes symptoms of tingling, numbness, burning, and pain. Numbness associated with diabetic neuropathy can cause the loss of sensations that we feel on the skin, especially in the area of the legs and feet. These sensations include those of light touch, pain, and temperature. Because a person with diabetic neuropathy often does not feel these sensations they are frequently not aware of things that may be damaging their skin, such as injuries or sores. People with diabetic neuropathy are at very high risk for foot ulcers. Therefore, foot inspection and foot care is very important for people with diabetes.
The best way to prevent and manage diabetic neuropathy is to keep your blood glucose under control. Talk to your physician or primary health care provider about the blood glucose target you should be aiming for. Keeping cholesterol levels under control, managing body weight, quitting smoking, and reducing blood pressure are also important for preventing and managing diabetic neuropathy.
If you are already experiencing the effects of diabetic neuropathy, be sure to inspect your feet daily and carefully follow foot care recommendations as provided by your health care professionals.
There are medications that may help with the pain caused by diabetic neuropathy. They act by helping to restore the normal function of your nerves. Many of these medications are also used for other conditions such as seizure prevention or the treatment of depression. Tell your physician or primary health care provider about all of your symptoms so that they can prescribe the medication best suited to treat your condition.