Diabetic Neuropathy FAQs
Reviewed by John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
- What is diabetic peripheral neuropathy?
- How are nerves damaged from diabetes?
- Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is avoidable. True or False?
- Why is diabetes troublesome for the feet?
- For people with diabetes, what is the best way to care for the feet?
- What is a serious consequence of untreated peripheral neuropathy?
- Often seen with diabetes, what other diseases involve automatically functioning nerves?
- Diabetic peripheral neuropathy can be cured. True or False?
- Improve your Health I.Q. on Diabetic Neuropathy
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Q:What is diabetic peripheral neuropathy?
A:The terms "diabetic peripheral neuropathy" or "diabetic neuropathy" refer to nerve damage as a result of diabetes.
Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that primarily affects the arms and legs and causes numbness, loss of sensation, and pain, tingling, or burning sensations.
About 50% of people with diabetes have a form of nerve pain. The highest rates of neuropathy are seen in people who have had diabetes for at least 25 years.
Peripheral neuropathy is the most common complication of diabetes.
Q:How are nerves damaged from diabetes?
A:Diabetes can damage blood vessels that carry oxygen to the nerves and nerve coverings.
Nerves that are damaged cannot effectively communicate messages to the brain and other areas of the body. Specifically, nerves can misfire messages, sending them at the wrong times, too slowly, or not at all. When messages are misfired, weakness, numbness, and loss of balance may be experienced and sensations such as heat, cold, and pain may not be felt.
Q:Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is avoidable. True or False?
Although most people with diabetes will eventually develop some kind of nerve damage, not all of them suffer from pain. In fact, studies have shown that the risk of developing nerve damage can be reduced or prevented in people with diabetes by keeping blood sugar levels close to normal. Stable control of blood sugar is the most important factor in preventing diabetic neuropathy.
Q:Why is diabetes troublesome for the feet?
A:Having diabetes presents particular challenges for the feet because of the potential for nerve damage, infection, ulcers, sores, and problems with circulation.
For people with diabetes who experience numbness, injuries to the feet may not be felt. In addition to a delay in wound care, circulatory problems can deprive feet of oxygen and nutrients that help speed healing. This can expose a person with diabetes to infection, ulcers, and sores on the feet.
If sores, infection, or other injuries or trauma are not properly treated, a serious infection can result.
Q:For people with diabetes, what is the best way to care for the feet?
A:It is important for people with diabetes to make healthy lifestyle choices no matter what, but this is especially true when it comes to caring for the feet.
Below are 10 tips for foot care with diabetic peripheral neuropathy:
1. Regularly inspect both feet for injuries.
2. Wash your feet with warm, not hot, water.
3. Buy only comfortable shoes that do not rub or hurt the feet in any way.
4. Never go barefoot.
5. Keep your doctor informed of any changes in your feet (sensations, appearance, injuries).
6. Cut your toenails once per week.
7. Protect the feet from extreme heat and cold.
8. Avoid smoking.
9. Moisturize the feet (top and bottom), but not between the toes.
10. Keep your blood sugar under control.
Q:What is a serious consequence of untreated peripheral neuropathy?
A:Amputation is a serious consequence of untreated neuropathy.
It is imperative for people with diabetes to properly care for their feet, including examining the feet with regular frequency. This is because peripheral neuropathy can lead to numbness. If a person with diabetes experiences numbness in their feet and injures their feet, the injury may not be felt. Lack of care for the foot wound could lead to a serious infection that will not heal, resulting in amputation of the foot in the most severe cases.
Q:Often seen with diabetes, what other diseases involve automatically functioning nerves?
A:Other diseases that involve automatically functioning nerves are called autonomic neuropathy and visceral neuropathy.
Autonomic neuropathy refers to a disease of the nerves that affects the internal organ system such as bladder muscles, the digestive system, and the heart. Autonomic neuropathy can causes these systems to malfunction, resulting in conditions such as urinary incontinence, erectile dysfunction, dizziness, diarrhea, and constipation.
Autonomic neuropathy is sometimes referred to as visceral neuropathy because it affects the viscera (the medical term for "internal organs").
Q:Diabetic peripheral neuropathy can be cured. True or False?
here is no cure for diabetic peripheral neuropathy. However, medications that can manage the symptoms of diabetic nerve pain are available. These treatments include certain types of antidepressants, duloxetine (Lyrica, Cymbalta), and some anti-seizure medications. Additionally, capsaicin and lidocaine may be applied to the skin to relieve pain.
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