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Diabetic nerve damage is also called diabetic neuropathy. Persistently high blood sugar levels can damage your nerves. This often causes pain, tingling, or numbness in your extremities.
Closely monitoring your blood glucose levels can greatly reduce your risk.
Diabetic nerve damage can occur anywhere in the body. There are four main types of nerve damage.
This is the most common type of diabetic nerve damage. It affects the:
Peripheral nerve damage may cause tingling, pain, or numbness.
This condition damages your autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is the part of the peripheral nervous system that acts independently of conscious control (involuntarily). It controls:
Autonomic nerve damage also makes you less aware of low blood glucose levels. This is known as hypoglycemia unawareness.
This condition causes pain in your thighs, hips, and buttocks. It leads to leg weakness.
This type of damage causes one nerve, or a group of nerves, to suddenly become weak. It can occur in any nerve in the body.
High blood glucose levels cause nerve damage.
Over time, high levels of glucose can damage the blood vessels, which supply and maintain your nerves in working order.
The risk of nerve damage is highest for people who have had diabetes for more than 10 to 20 years.
Anyone with type 1 or type 2 diabetes can develop nerve damage. About half of people with diabetes will develop nerve damage. Your risk increases with:
Symptoms often develop slowly over many years. They vary depending on the nerves that are affected.
Common symptoms include:
Nerve damage can make managing your blood sugar levels difficult, as it may be hard to tell when your blood sugar is low.
Nerve damage can also hide the symptoms of chest pain, so you may miss the warning signs of a heart attack or heart disease.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam. Tests may also be ordered to confirm nerve damage.
Keep track of your symptoms and bring a list to your appointment. This can help identify nerve damage.
Your doctor will check:
People with diabetes should have a comprehensive foot exam every year to check for nerve damage. This includes the skin, muscle, and bone health of your feet. Your doctor will also poke your feet to check for sensation.
Other tests for diabetic nerve damage include:
Treatment involves taking steps to keep your blood glucose in the normal range. This includes:
You may need to check your blood sugar a few times throughout the day. Work with your doctor to develop a plan to keep your blood sugar in a healthy range.
To relieve the pain caused by nerve damage you may be prescribed oral medications, such as:
You may also be given treatments to apply on your skin, such as creams or lidocaine patches. Studies have recently found that alpha-lipolic acid and evening primrose oil can decrease symptoms and may improve nerve function (NDIC, 2009).
Other alternative treatment options include:
You may relieve digestive symptoms by:
You may be prescribed medications to reduce stomach acid or speed digestion.
Always stand or sit down slowly to relieve these symptoms. You may also benefit from lowering the level of salt in your diet or taking high blood pressure medications.
Physical therapy is helpful if you have muscle weakness or problems with coordination.
To relieve urinary problems, you can:
If you are experiencing sexual problems, your doctor may recommend:
It is important to take proper care of your feet. They are very susceptible to damage from diabetic neuropathy.
The following are helpful foot care tips:
You may want to follow up with a podiatrist to help monitor and care for your feet.
Maintaining control of your blood sugar can help prevent nerve damage. You should monitor your blood sugar at home using a blood sugar meter. It is also important to get a hemoglobin A1C test twice a year. This test monitors your long-term blood sugar control.
Exercise can protect the nerves in your feet and legs. However, you should also be careful not to damage or injure them. Your doctor can help you find activities that work for you.
Regular foot checks can prevent small infections or problems from getting worse. Complete and regular physical examinations and foot examinations will help you control your symptoms and prevent further nerve damage. Talk to your doctor right away if you notice symptoms of diabetic neuropathy.
Nerve damage often worsens over time. However, proper treatment and monitoring can control symptoms and slow disease progression.
Written by: Cindie Slightham
Medically reviewed on: Jul 02, 2012: Romilla Anwar, MD
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