People with diabetes often develop nerve damage due to higher than normal levels of sugar in their blood. Diabetes results when the body is not able to produce enough insulin to move sugar or glucose from the blood into the cells. Diabetes can also result when insulin is present but cells are not able to use it effectively. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that between 60 and 70 percent of all people with diabetes have some type of nerve damage.
When nerve damage is caused by diabetes, the condition is known as diabetic neuropathy. Any person with diabetes can develop diabetic neuropathy at any time. But the longer a person has diabetes, the higher this risk becomes. Other factors that increase the risk of diabetic neuropathy include problems controlling blood sugar levels, having high levels of fat in the blood, having high blood pressure, and being overweight.
Diabetes causes nerve damage because high levels of sugar or glucose in the blood can cause damage to the walls of blood vessels. When the tiny blood vessels that supply food and oxygen to the nerves are damaged, the nerves can also become injured. Diabetic neuropathy typically starts in the long nerves in the body that connect to the hands and feet. It is possible for this condition to cause significant damage to nerves without any noticeable symptoms. Common symptoms that may be present include:
• Tingling or a feeling of “pins and needles” in the feet
• Burning or shooting pains in the feet
• Pain when feet are touched, such as when covered by a bed sheet
• Temperature extremes – feet or hands feel very cold or very hot
• Feet feel dead or numb
• Lack of feeling in the hands or feet, such as not noticing blisters or cuts in the skin
• Lack of feeling in the feet when walking – can’t feel the feet
• Feel unsteady when standing or walking
• Lack of temperature sensation in the hands or feet – can’t feel hot or cold
• Legs and feet feel weak
• Open sores on the legs or feet that heal very slowly
Neuropathy that affects the hands or feet is known as peripheral neuropathy. This can be a very serious condition because it is easy for sores or other damage to the feet to go unnoticed and untreated. If you suspect you have diabetic neuropathy, be sure to talk to your doctor and make sure he checks your feet at every appointment.
Home care to help limit damage from this condition includes checking your feet every day for any signs of sores, blisters, or dry skin that could crack or become infected. Always wear socks and shoes that fit well to help protect feet from damage. Be careful when exercising or doing other activities that could put you at risk if lack of feeling in your feet makes your balance unstable.
If you have diabetic neuropathy and get any kind of sore or infection on your feet, be sure to get it treated right away. Failure to take care of a minor infection could lead to a more serious infection as well as possible amputation of the foot or leg.
To help prevent or limit nerve damage from diabetic neuropathy, you need to keep your blood sugar in your target range. Plan meals carefully, take medications on schedule, and get appropriate exercise to help maintain your blood sugar levels.
Denise DeWitt is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Diabetic Neuropathies: The Nerve Damage of Diabetes. Web. January 29, 2012/
American Diabetes Association. Nerve Damage. Web. January 29, 2012.
American Diabetes Association. Could You Have Diabetic Neuropathy and Not Know It?. Web. January 29, 2012.
Mayo Clinic. Diabetic neuropathy. Web. January 29, 2012.