Neuropathy means damage to the nerves of the peripheral nervous system. Diabetes is the most common cause of neuropathy. Chronic high sugar levels in the blood damages the nerves and their ability to transmit signals. Neuropathy most commonly affects the nerves to the feet and hands, but any nerves can be involved, including those that control internal organs.
Up to half of all people with diabetes develop neuropathy during the course of their disease. There is no cure. Management aims to ease symptoms and reduce the risk of further complications.
Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy
Most people with diabetic neuropathy are unaware that they have nerve damage, until it is picked up on routine screening by their podiatrist.
Typical symptoms vary from person to person, but may include one or more of numbness, pins and needles, tingling, discomfort, or weakness, which usually begin in both feet and spread symmetrically up the legs (like stockings).
About half of those people with diabetic neuropathy experience significant pain in their feet and increased sensitivity to painful stimuli (known as neuropathic pain). Neuropathic pain is often worse at night, and can seriously disrupt sleep patterns.
These symptoms can have a major effect on health and wellbeing because:
- balance problems increase the risk of falls
- weakness leads to deformities in the feet, like claw or hammer toes, and bunions
- numbness means damage to the feet may go unnoticed.
Together, these can lead to the formation of a foot ulcers, infection and increased risk of lower limb amputations.
Risk factors for diabetic neuropathy
The longer a person has diabetes and the worse the control of their diabetes, the more likely they will develop diabetic neuropathy.
Those people experiencing complications of their diabetes elsewhere in their body (such as in the kidneys, heart or eyes) are also more likely to have or develop neuropathy, as the same factors that cause these problems also contribute to neuropathy. Smoking, high blood pressure and being overweight also make it more likely that people with diabetes will get nerve damage.
Prevention of diabetic neuropathy
Be guided by your doctor, but general suggestions to reduce the risk of diabetic neuropathy include:
- Maintain blood glucose levels within the target ranges.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy weight for your height.
- Stop smoking.
- Reduce your blood pressure and lipid (fat) levels through diet and lifestyle changes, and medication where appropriate
- Consult your doctor promptly if you have symptoms including pain, numbness or tingling in your hands or feet.
- Have your feet checked at least yearly by your doctor, podiatrist or diabetes educator, or more often if you have signs of problems with your feet or other complications of your diabetes.
How can a podiatrist help?
- Conduct biannual or annual neurological and vascular screening to monitor and compare results to ensure results are remaining consistent and not regressing.
- Provide professional regular foot and nail care to “high risk patients” to minimise risk of injury, infection which can cause wounds from occurring and increase the risk of amputation.
- Provide diabetic education and home care advice.
If you want to know more about this, just give us a call on 9542 3491.
The Team from Sutherland Podiatry Centre