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.
The word “neuropathy” is from neuros (meaning nerve) and pathos (meaning suffering). A neuropathy is nerve damage that can affect any part of the body. In people with diabetes it often affects the feet first. 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.
All of the nerves to the entire body start in the brain. The feet are the farthest part of the body from the brain. The nerves in the feet are the last to get the signal from the brain and the first to weaken.
As we age, signals to the brain slow down. If you stub your toe, you may know it’s going to hurt for a second before you feel the pain. That second is the time it takes for the pain signal to reach the brain. Pain is a sign of danger. Pain tells us what to avoid because it hurts.
Neruropathy in the feet may start with tingling, burning, or sharp pain. Over time, loss of sensation occurs. Some people just gradually lose sensation. If you cannot feel pain in the foot, you might not know you have a blister that needs attention. Foot examination is important for diabetics.
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.
How To Protect Your Feet
- Check your feet every day. Look for blisters, cuts, bruises, cracked and peeling skin, redness, and swelling. Use a mirror or ask a friend or family member to help examine parts of your feet that are hard to see.
- Keep your feet clean and dry. Wash your feet every day with lukewarm water and mild soap. Avoid soaking your feet. Dry your feet and between your toes carefully.
- Moisturize your feet. This helps prevent cracking. But don’t get lotion between your toes, because it might encourage fungal growth.
- Trim your toenails carefully. Cut your toenails straight across. File the edges carefully to avoid sharp edges.
- Wear clean, dry socks. Look for socks made of cotton or moisture-wicking fibers that don’t have tight bands or thick seams.
- Wear cushioned shoes that fit well. Always wear shoes or slippers to protect your feet. Make sure your shoes fit properly and allow your toes to move. A foot doctor can teach you how to buy properly fitted shoes and to prevent problems such as corns and calluses. If you qualify for Medicare, your plan may cover the cost of at least one pair of shoes each year
(Written with the assistance of The Mayo Clinic website.)