Diabetic Neuropathy

Photo of a person's foot experiencing numbness and tingling from diabetic neuropathy

COULD I HAVE DIABETIC NEUROPATHY?

If you have diabetes and feel numbness or tingling in your feet, that could mean you suffer from what’s called diabetic neuropathy. Keep reading to learn more about the causes and symptoms of diabetic neuropathy from the experts at FootSmart and The Podiatry Institute.

WHAT IS DIABETIC NEUROPATHY?

Drawn diagram of nerves running through the ankle and foot

While many people know that diabetes affects blood sugar levels, it may also cause nerve damage in a pattern that first affects the hands and feet. That damage to the nervous system is called diabetic neuropathy, and it can have direct consequences on your feet.

Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy may not appear until many years after your diabetes is diagnosed. High blood sugar levels—also called hyperglycemia—can injure the walls of the blood vessels that nourish your nerves and result in nerve damage. That’s why controlling your blood sugar levels with the right medication, diet, and exercise is essential in helping prevent diabetic neuropathy.

Drawn diagram of ulcer on bottom of foot resulting from nerve damage

That nerve damage may result in painful tingling or burning sensations in your feet and legs. But even worse is when you experience decreased protective sensation in your feet—a condition called "peripheral neuropathy" where you become unaware of pressure, pain, heat, and cold. For example, if you develop calluses, fissures, and wounds in your feet without noticing them, your risk of foot and leg infections increases.

In addition, motor nerves—the nerves that control your muscles—can be affected as diabetic neuropathy progresses. Combined with the decreased protective sensation, repetitive microtrauma (a series of small, unnoticed injuries) may result in joint damage to your feet and worsen over time. In severe cases, this condition may even lead to foot deformity, which doctors call Charcot neuroarthropathy.

Think you might have diabetic neuropathy?Take This Self-assessment:
Self- Assessment
Quiz
  • Have I experienced electric shock-like sensations in my feet?
  • Have I had diabetes for many years, but failed to diagnose it?
  • Have I had diabetes for many years, but did not do a good job at managing my diet, exercising properly, or taking my medication?
  • Consider taking our diabetic feet self-assessments

If you’ve experienced electric shock-like sensations while answering yes to at least one of the other questions, your condition may have progressed into diabetic neuropathy. Read further to learn ways of treating and preventing diabetic neuropathy from the experts at FootSmart and the Podiatry Institute.

Are there any serious concerns with
diabetic neuropathy?
Photo of man's foot wrapped in gauze to help with diabetic neuropathy

Diabetic neuropathy can affect more than just your feet. It can also strike your autonomic nervous system—the nerves that control heart rate, digestion and other essential functions—and lead to significant resting tachycardia (a heart rate that is higher than normal when you are at rest), slowing of the digestive system, and erectile dysfunction. Increased blood flow (or hyperemia) is also thought to contribute to foot deformity. This hyperemia leads to an increase in bone resorption (the breaking down of your bones) which can result in bony destruction and high rates of infection that may require amputation.

How do I treat and Prevent diabetic neuropathy?
Photo of a person putting on a seamless sock to prevent blisters and calluses

Keeping a tight control on blood sugar levels is the first defense against the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy. Follow your doctor's advice on managing your diabetes through diet, exercise, lifestyle changes, and medication.

If you have diabetic neuropathy, your doctor may prescribe medications including antidepressants, anticonvulsants, or narcotics to help with the symptoms. The results can be unpredictable—some patients find relief and others experience little or no effect. These medications can also produce strong side effects, most commonly involving sedation.

Whether you've already developed neuropathy or not, our treatment and prevention recommendations follow most of the same ways that you treat and prevent diabetic feet.

In our diabetic feet article, we suggest what shoes to wear, how to care for your feet, and home remedies to avoid. These diabetic feet recommendations will also help you treat and prevent diabetic neuropathy.