Diabetic neuropathy: Prevention and treatment

You need to know:

  • Up to 70% of people with diabetes may get diabetic neuropathy
  • Diabetic neuropathy may cause tingling, numbness or pain in the feet and/or hands
  • Other parts of your body may have different symptoms
  • If your feet or hands are numb, check them daily for cuts or signs of infection

Approximately eight out of every 100 people in the U.S. have diabetes. Could you be one of them? If so, you already know that diabetes is a medical condition that needs to be taken seriously.

 

One of the long-term problems associated with poorly or uncontrolled diabetes is the chance of developing diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy means that some of the nerves in your body have been “hurt” by the effects of high levels of glucose (sugar) in your blood, which are normally kept within normal liits by a hormone called insulin: Insulin helps the cells in your body use glucose for “fuel.” A person with diabetic neuropathy feels different symptoms depending on which nerves have been damaged. We’ll learn more about those symptoms in a minute.

 

Up to 70% of people with diabetes wind up with some type of neuropathy, especially if they’ve had diabetes for many years that has been poorly controlled.

 

How does it feel?

Poorly controlled diabetes can injure the nerves in many parts of the body, in particular the ones that are small and farthest away from the heart (likes the toes, feet, fingers, and hands) causing different kinds of warning signs. Some people may never feel any of these signs, but their doctors can still tell if nerve damage has taken place by doing some tests.

 

What should you watch for? Let your doctor know if you have any of these problems:

  • “Prickly” feelings, numbness, tingling, or pain in the feet. Feet are often the first places that diabetic neuropathy strikes. These strange feelings may also happen in the legs, hands, arms, and fingers
  • Problems with your stomach or intestines: often feeling sick to your stomach, vomiting, or having diarrhea or constipation
  • Weakness, or wasting away of the muscles in your feet or hands
  • Feeling dizzy or faint when trying to sit up or stand quickly
  • Not knowing when you need to urinate, or having to urinate without warning
  • For men: having trouble getting (or keeping) an erection
  • For women: vaginal dryness

Watch those feet!

If you have diabetic neuropathy, it’s important to take very good care of your feet and prevent them from getting hurt. Tingling and numbness in your feet and toes can make it hard to tell if your feet have been hurt: It’s possible to get blisters or cuts without knowing it. And since with diabetes, the blood in your feet may not circulate as well as it should, you could also get foot ulcers that may have trouble healing. Any of these problems might lead to bad infections if they’re not found and treated. Wash and gently dry the affected parts of your body at least once each day, checking for cuts. Speak with your doctor right away if anything looks infected, red, or swollen.

 

Prevent and treat

Diabetic neuropathy is painful and annoying, and it may stop you from doing many of the things that you enjoy. Keeping your blood sugar level in a normal range is the best way to prevent neuropathy; getting your blood sugar back to normal is the first step for treating this problem when it shows up.

 

Here are some treatments for other neuropathy-related issues:

 

  • Prescription medications may help with pain. For example, two drugs, duloxetine and pregabalin, have been specially approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat the pain of diabetic neuropathy
  • Special creams or sprays, placed on the skin may relieve foot pain, but should only be used with your doctor’s supervision
  • There are also prescription medications to help with urinary symptoms, diarrhea and other bowel-related problems

Diabetic neuropathy is a serious problem, but being very careful about your blood sugar, diet and your weight can make a big difference in your health. Always communicate with your healthcare provider about your concerns, and treatments you are trying on your own.

References

American Diabetes Association
http://www.diabetes.org (Search on “diabetic neuropathy”)

 

National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse
http://www.diabetes.niddk.nih.gov (Search on “diabetic neuropathy”)

 

The Neuropathy Association
http://www.neuropathy.org (Search on “diabetic neuropathy”)

 

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
http://www2.niddk.nih.gov (Search on “diabetic neuropathy”)

 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
http://www.cdc.gov (Search on “diabetic neuropathy”)