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What is diabetic neuropathy?
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.
What are the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy?
Diabetic neuropathy can cause the following symptoms:
- Numbness (loss of feeling) or painful tingling and burning in parts of the body, especially your feet, legs, and toes
- Muscle weakness and difficulty walking
- Your feet heal slowly when you get cuts, sores, or blisters on them. Also, they don’t hurt as much as you would expect.
CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
What causes diabetic neuropathy?
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.
How is diabetic neuropathy diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider or nurse should check your feet periodically when you go in for a visit. If you are diabetic and have symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, your healthcare provider may take a complete health history and perform a physical exam. If you have never been diagnosed with diabetes, your healthcare provider may order a blood test first. Nerve function tests are used to diagnose diabetic neuropathy. Nerve function tests will measure your response to electrical signals, sensitivity to touch, and changes in temperature.
Can diabetic neuropathy be prevented or avoided?
The most important thing is to keep your blood sugar under control. Take your medicines and/or insulin exactly as your healthcare provider prescribes. Eat a healthy diet. If you are overweight, ask your healthcare provider to help you lose weight. Get plenty of exercise.
Here are some other ways to protect your feet:
- Wash your feet every day with lukewarm (not hot) water and mild soap.
- Dry your feet well, especially between the toes. Use a soft towel and pat gently; don’t rub.
- Keep the skin of your feet smooth by applying a cream or lanolin lotion, especially on the heels, but not between the toes. If the skin is cracked, contact your healthcare provider about how to treat it.
- Check your feet every day. You may need a mirror to look at the bottoms of your feet. Contact your healthcare provider if you have redness, swelling, pain that doesn’t go away, numbness or tingling in any part of your foot.
- Don’t treat calluses, corns or bunions without talking to your healthcare provider first.
- Cut toenails straight across to avoid ingrown toenails. It might help to soak your toenails in warm water to soften them before you cut them. File the edges of your toenails carefully.
- Don’t let your feet get too hot or too cold.
- Don’t go barefoot.
When choosing shoes and socks, use these guidelines:
- Don’t wear shoes without socks.
- Don’t wear sandals or other open-toed shoes.
- Avoid high-heeled shoes and shoes with pointed toes.
- Wear comfortable socks that aren’t too tight. Change them every day.
- Don’t wear uncomfortable or tight shoes that rub or cut into your feet. If you’ve had problems before because of shoes that didn’t fit, you may want to be fitted for a custom-molded shoe.
- Contact your healthcare provider before you buy special shoes or inserts.
- Shop for new shoes at the end of the day when your feet are a little swollen. If shoes are comfortable when your feet are swollen, they’ll probably be comfortable all day.
- Break in new shoes gradually.
- Change socks and shoes every day.
- Look inside your shoes every day for things like gravel or torn linings. These things could rub against your feet and cause blisters or sores.
How is diabetic neuropathy treated?
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:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Controlling blood pressure
- Not smoking
- Limiting alcohol use
Treatment for diabetic neuropathy also focuses on relieving pain and discomfort. There are several medicines available that help ease neuropathy pain. Your healthcare provider will help you decide which is the best for you.
Living with diabetic neuropathy
Taking good care of your feet is critical when you have diabetic neuropathy. Try to prevent injuries to your feet. Exercise to help keep muscles strong. Pay special attention if you see a crack or sore on either of your feet. Keep your skin dry. Apply a small amount of lotion to your feet each day to keep your skin soft and reduce cracking. If you are having any problems, such as increased numbness, sores, or ingrown toenails, tell your healthcare provider right away.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
PEI Government Website
Health Canada website at: