Do you have numbness, tingling, or constant pain in your feet and legs? It is worse overnight? Is it hard to feel temperature with your feet, but they’re still hyper-sensitive to touch? If you answered yes, you could have peripheral neuropathy.
And, if you have diabetes, it’s critically important to understand this condition.
What Is It Peripheral Neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is loss of feeling mainly in your legs and feet, but it can spread to your arms and hands.
It affects between 60 percent to 70 percent of people with diabetes, according to the National Institutes of Health, and it worsens at night. It impacts people differently, however. Some feel tingling. Others feel pain or numbness. But, overall, changes appear slowly as people age.
Caused by chronically high blood sugar levels (130 mg/dL before eating; >180 mg/dL after eating), peripheral neuropathy damages nerves, making it harder for messages to travel between your brain and your extremities. It can be particularly dangerous because you might not know you’ve developed an ulcer. Left untreated, ulcers can get infected, potentially leading to amputation or death.
Initially, you can develop numbness; tingling; a prickly pins-and-needles feeling; a burning or cold sensation; pinching; buzzing; or sharp, deep stabbing pains. However, as peripheral neuropathy progresses, these signs are also possible:
- Touch sensitivity: Your toes, feet, legs, and hands can become overly responsive.
- Muscle weakness: Nerve damage weakens your muscles, making it harder for you to walk or grab things.
- Balance problems: Numbness in your feet can make you unsteady and uncoordinated.
Peripheral neuropathy can also cause digestive system, urinary tract, blood vessel, and heart problems.
There’s no cure for peripheral neuropathy, but you can minimize your discomfort. Talk with your doctor about these options.
- Braces: Hand and foot braces can reduce physical disability and pain. Orthopedic shoes can improve your gait and help prevent foot injuries. Splints can also alleviate carpal tunnel symptoms.
- Complementary techniques: In some cases, acupuncture, massage, herbal medication, and cognitive or behavioral training can lessen neurological pain.
- Medication: Some drugs approved for chronic neuropathic pain can provide relief. Discuss effective medications with your doctor.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation: This treatment delivers gentle electrical currents to painful sites via electrodes attached to the skin. Some studies show it improves peripheral neuropathy.
Protecting Your Feet
If you have peripheral neuropathy, take steps to prevent ulcers or sores on your feet. Follow these tips to avoid potentially serious wounds.
- Check your feet daily for blisters, sores, or ulcers.
- Keep your feet clean and dry.
- Trim your toenails carefully. Cut them straight across, filing down sharp edges.
- Wear clean, dry socks.
- Wear cushioned shoes with enough space for your toes.
When to See Your Doctor
There will be times you’ll need to consult your doctor. Schedule an appointment if you see any of these changes if:
- you have any non-healing cut or sore on your foot.
- burning, itching, tingling, weakness, or the pain in your hands or feet interferes with your daily activities or sleep.
- you see changes to your digestion, urination, or sexual function.
- you experience dizziness.
Overall, knowing how to identify and what to expect from peripheral neuropathy can help you manage the condition.
Contact the Amputation Prevention Centers of America for more information.