Overview

Neuropathy is a term used to describe a complication of a number of different medical conditions. It involves damage to one or more of the nerve types responsible for sensation, power, movement and bodily functions performed by the gut, bladder and sweat glands. Most cases of neuropathy are found in people with diabetes.

Diabetic neuropathy is the occurrence of neuropathic symptoms in a person with diabetes. If you suffer from type 1 or type 2 diabetes, this condition is something you should be aware of. Diabetic neuropathy can affect your feet, and without proper care this condition can lead to injuries in the feet that may develop into infected sores and foot ulcers. This can affect a person’s quality of life significantly and in severe cases amputation of an affected limb may be necessary.

Causes

The high blood sugar levels common in people with diabetes causes damage to blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the nerves in our feet. This can cause damage to the skin and the subsequent loss of sensation makes the feet more susceptible to damage. The following risk factors have also been shown to contribute to a diabetic person’s likelihood of developing diabetic neuropathy:

  • Obesity.
  • Smoking.
  • Being older than 40 years of age.
  • Extended periods of poor blood sugar level control.
  • The chances of developing this condition increase the longer a person has diabetes.
  • Hypertension.
  • Heart disease.

Symptoms

Up to 50% of people with diabetic neuropathy have no symptoms at all. Others may experience symptoms that don’t seem serious but develop slowly over months and years. It is very important for people with diabetes to undertake regular medical checks to look for early signs of this condition. Some of the signs of diabetic neuropathy may include one or more of the following:

  • Numbness or reduced feeling in the feet.
  • Tightness or burning, shooting, stabbing pains in the feet, hands or other body parts.
  • A reduced or increased sensitivity to light, touch or temperature.
  • Weakness and loss of balance and coordination.
  • Extreme sweating on the torso, face or neck at night or when eating certain foods (spicy foods or cheese for example).
  • Problems emptying the bladder properly or sensing when the bladder is full.
  • Pain in and around the eyes, double vision and trouble moving an eye.

Diagnosis

To establish if diabetic neuropathy may be present, a podiatrist will ask questions about your symptoms and health history. A physical examination is conducted checking the sensation in your feet, the circulation, looking at the skin of the feet thoroughly and checking the tendon reflexes. Based on the results, it may be necessary for you to schedule a doctor’s appointment for more extensive testing.

Treatment

There is no cure but controlling your diabetes properly and consistently is the best way to treat diabetic neuropathy. It is important to always keep your blood sugar levels within your target range to reduce symptoms.

It is also important to properly care for your feet. Diabetic neuropathy can cause the loss of feeling and sensation in the feet, increasing your chances of getting an unnoticed cut or scratch on your foot that can develop into a sore or ulcer, leading to the chance of serious infection.

Other treatments that may help to manage symptoms include:

  • Regular exercise.
  • Weight reduction.
  • Enjoy a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Control your blood pressure.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol consumption.

Prevention

  • Dan Everson Podiatry recommends the following steps to prevent diabetic neuropathy:
  • Never walk barefoot
  • Check your feet daily for redness, swelling, cuts, bruises, sores, ingrown toenails, splinters and blisters using a mirror or ask a friend or family member to check for you.
  • Schedule regular check-ups with your podiatrist. Have them check for any corns or calluses on your feet. If you find a corn or callus prior to a check-up, do not use over the counter corn pads or razor blades.
  • Wash your feet daily and ensure they are completely dry, paying particular attention to washing and drying the soles of your feet and in between the toes.
  • See your podiatrist for nail treatment and use a file if there are any rough edges on nails.
  • Moisturise your feet daily but do not apply lotion in between the toes.
  • Wear seamless socks or stockings that are not too tight or restrictive.
  • Ask your podiatrist about the best type of footwear and orthotic devices for your particular needs.
  • Keep your feet away from direct heat from heaters, hot water bottles, scalding hot showers or baths and electric blankets.
  • Exercise regularly but carefully to prevent injuring your feet.
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