Diabetic Neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can occur if you have diabetes. High blood sugar (glucose) can injure nerves throughout your body. Diabetic neuropathy most often damages nerves in your legs and feet.
Depending on the affected nerves, diabetic neuropathy symptoms can range from pain and numbness in your legs and feet to problems with your digestive system, urinary tract, blood vessels and heart. Some people have mild symptoms. But for others, diabetic neuropathy can be quite painful and disabling.
Diabetic neuropathy is a serious diabetes complication that may affect as many as 50% of people with diabetes. But you can often prevent diabetic neuropathy or slow its progress with consistent blood sugar management and a healthy lifestyle.
There are four main types of diabetic neuropathy. You can have one type or more than one type of neuropathy.
Your symptoms will depend on the type you have and which nerves are affected. Usually, symptoms develop gradually. You may not notice anything is wrong until considerable nerve damage has occurred.
This type of neuropathy may also be called distal symmetric peripheral neuropathy. It's the most common type of diabetic neuropathy. It affects the feet and legs first, followed by the hands and arms. Signs and symptoms of peripheral neuropathy are often worse at night, and may include:
The autonomic nervous system controls your heart, bladder, stomach, intestines, sex organs and eyes. Diabetes can affect nerves in any of these areas, possibly causing:
This type of neuropathy — also called diabetic amyotrophy — often affects nerves in the thighs, hips, buttocks or legs. It can also affect the abdominal and chest area. Symptoms are usually on one side of the body, but may spread to the other side. You may have:
There are two types of mononeuropathy — cranial and peripheral. Mononeuropathy refers to damage to a specific nerve. Mononeuropathy may also lead to:
The exact cause of each type of neuropathy is unknown. Researchers think that over time, uncontrolled high blood sugar damages nerves and interferes with their ability to send signals, leading to diabetic neuropathy. High blood sugar also weakens the walls of the small blood vessels (capillaries) that supply the nerves with oxygen and nutrients.
Anyone who has diabetes can develop neuropathy. But these risk factors make you more likely to get nerve damage:
Diabetic neuropathy can cause a number of serious complications, including:
You can prevent or delay diabetic neuropathy and its complications by closely managing your blood sugar and taking good care of your feet.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes have an A1C test at least twice a year. This test estimates your average blood sugar level for the past two to three months.
A1C goals may need to be individualized, but for many adults, the American Diabetes Association recommends an A1C of less than 7%. If your blood sugar levels are higher than your goal, you may need changes in your daily management, such as adding or adjusting your medications or changing your diet.
Foot problems, including sores that don't heal, ulcers and even amputation, are common complications of diabetic neuropathy. But you can prevent many of these problems by having a thorough foot exam at least once a year, having your doctor check your feet at each office visit and taking good care of your feet at home.
Follow your doctor's recommendations for good foot care. To protect the health of your feet: