If you have diabetes, you know controlling your blood sugar is important. But it’s not just about monitoring your insulin. Healthy glucose levels help stave off diabetic neuropathy, a painful nerve condition that affects your mobility and quality of life.
What is diabetic neuropathy?
Diabetic neuropathy is feeling loss in your extremities from nerve damage. It typically strikes the legs and feet, but numbness can appear in other parts of your body.
What causes diabetic neuropathy?
Long-term high blood sugar levels (higher than 130 mg/dL before eating; higher than 180 mg/dL after eating) can injure your nerves. Once damaged, it’s harder for them to fire signals throughout your body. Nerve inflammation, genetic factors, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can also be factors.
Types of diabetic neuropathy
There are four main types. Talk with your doctor about which form you have.
- Peripheral: This is most common, impacting up to 50 percent of diabetics, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It starts in the legs and feet, can spread to the arms and hands and worsens at night. Typical symptoms include numbness, reduced temperature sensitivity, tingling, burning and sharp pains, as well as sensitivity to touch, muscle weakness, poor balance and decreased coordination. Because you can’t feel pressure, ulcers and sores are likely to develop on your feet.
- Autonomic: This neuropathy, found in up to 30 percent of diabetics, affects your heart, bladder, stomach, intestines, sex organs and eyes. It prevents you from recognizing blood sugar drops, and a sluggish stomach causes nausea, vomiting, bloating and appetite loss. Incontinence and constipation occur frequently, too. Sharp blood pressure drops and racing heart rates are possible, as well as sexual effects — vaginal dryness in women and erectile dysfunction in men.
- Radiculoplexus neuropathy: Most common in individuals with Type 2 diabetes and older adults, this type attacks thighs, hips, buttocks and legs. Eventually, your muscles shrink, making it harder to stand from a seated position. You could also experience abdominal swelling and weight loss.
- Mononeuropathy: Also called focal neuropathy, it’s most common in older adults. It affects the face, torso and legs, causing severe pain that suddenly strikes the shin, foot, lower back, thigh, chest or abdomen. However, it tends to disappear on its own within a few weeks or months.
What increases your risk?
Your risk increases the longer you’ve had diabetes, and improper blood-sugar control raises your likelihood even more. Existing kidney disease also releases toxins into your blood that cause nerve damage. Additionally, a BMI >24 and smoking put you at risk.
Can you prevent or manage it?
According to the NIH, exercise, following your diabetic meal plans, smoking cessation and taking prescribed medications can prevent neuropathy. Also, limit alcohol consumption to one daily drink for women, two for men.
If you have neuropathy, you can limit its impact. Maintain healthy blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and weight ranges. Keep your feet clean and dry, checking them daily for sores, cuts or ulcers.
When should you see your doctor?
Any time you have a lingering cut or sore on your foot, seek medical attention. Discuss dizziness, new burning or tingling sensations or progressive weakness, as well as digestive or sexual function changes with your doctor. These symptoms don’t automatically mean you have diabetic neuropathy, but get them checked to ensure you don’t overlook effective treatment.
If you have any questions, contact the Amputation Prevention Centers of America.