Diabetic Neuropathy (Diabetic Foot)

Diabetic neuropathy at a glance

  • Diabetic Neuropathy is nerve damage caused by diabetes that significantly reduces the awareness of heat, cold, and pain in the feet and legs, putting patients at risk of injury and infection.
  • Treatment for diabetic neuropathy includes medications for pain relief, topical treatments, and alternative treatments such as acupuncture. Talk to your pharmacist before purchasing anti-inflammatories as these medications may be contraindicated as they may interact with other medications and medical conditions.
  • A treatment plan should also include good foot care, with daily self-examinations for blisters, small cuts, or sores.
  • There is no cure for diabetic neuropathy, but careful management of blood sugar levels within a target range can reduce symptoms and keep them from getting worse.

Causes of diabetic neuropathy

When blood sugar (glucose) levels remain too high over a long period of time, nerve fibers in the body become damaged. Elevated glucose levels make it difficult for nerves to transmit signals, and the nerve fibers controlling the sense of touch, hot, cold, and pain are severely impacted, particularly in the feet and legs of diabetics.

The longer a person has diabetes, the more likely they are to develop diabetic neuropathy, which is most common in people who have had diabetes for more than 25 years. Other factors such as a genetic predisposition to nerve damage, kidney disease, or inflammation of the nerves due to an autoimmune response also contribute to diabetic neuropathy.

Smoking and drinking alcohol significantly increase the risk of infections in a patient with diabetic neuropathy since both substances cause additional damage to blood vessels and nerves.

Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy

The symptoms of diabetic neuropathy depend on which nerves are damaged. Some common issues are:

  • Numbness or reduced ability to feel pain or changes in temperature
  • A tingling or burning feeling
  • Sharp, jabbing pain that may be worse at night
  • Extreme sensitivity to the lightest touch
  • Muscle weakness and difficulty walking
  • Serious foot problems, such as ulcers, infections, deformities, and bone or joint pain.

Treatment for diabetic neuropathy

Treatment of diabetic neuropathy can help slow the progression of the disease, relieve pain, and restore function. There is no known cure for diabetic neuropathy, but keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible may help keep the damage from getting worse, and lead to an improvement in existing symptoms.

To slow down the nerve damage associated with diabetic neuropathy, patients should maintain a healthy diet and exercise plan. Smoking and alcohol use should be avoided.

Foot care

Foot care is extremely important for patients with diabetic neuropathy. Nerve damage can cause a lack of sensation in the feet, so cuts and sores may go unnoticed and eventually become severely infected or ulcerated. Since diabetes reduces blood flow to the feet, the risk of infection is high, even for small injuries like blisters. Diabetes makes some infections harder to treat, so ulcers that develop into deep tissue infections can lead to serious complications, and even amputation.

Feet should be checked each day for pain, redness, swelling, cuts, sores, or blisters. A doctor should also perform a thorough foot examination at least once a year.