Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy Affects the Feet
One common symptom of diabetes is nerve damage. When nerve damage affects the arms, hands, legs or feet, it is known as diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
Diabetic neuropathy (which means nerve damage) can affect any of the following:
- Sensory nerves, which sense pain, temperature, and other external factors;
- Motor nerves, which allow the body to move and react by controlling muscles;
- Autonomic nerves, which control certain involuntary functions such as perspiration or blood flow.
Diabetic peripheral neuropathy may develop slowly and worsen with time. The longer a patient has diabetes, the greater the likelihood of neuropathy.
When nerves are damaged, they fail to signal to the patient when there is an injury or irritation in the foot. This lack of sensitivity to pain can make a patient vulnerable to skin ulcers and other foot problems, which can lead to infection. More serious complications include loss of a foot or a limb.
Causes of Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy
As with many other complications of diabetes, the better a patient is able to control the underlying disease, the less chance of complications such as peripheral neuropathy. Nerve damage is more common for patients whose diabetes is undiagnosed or poorly controlled.
However, even diabetic patients whose blood sugar is well within accepted limits may develop neuropathy. Researchers theorize that blood vessels that nourish the nerves may be damaged by high glucose levels or by the constriction of arteries.
Symptoms That Indicate Peripheral Neuropathy
Symptoms vary, and may include numbness (lack of sensation), prickly feelings, tingling or loss of balance, depending on which nerves are affected.
If damage occurs to the sensory nerves, the patient may report numbness or tingling in the feet. This impairment can also make itself felt with pain or irritation in the legs or feet.
If the damage affects motor nerves, the patient may feel weak, or report a loss of muscle function in the feet and lower legs. The patient’s balance may be affected. If motor nerves alter the gait, this can lead to sores or ulcers from shoes that no longer fit properly.
Diagnosing Diabetic Neuropathy
At our clinics in Sunnyvale, DeSoto and Dallas, the doctor starts by gathering the patient’s history and performing certain physical tests. A patient’s reflexes and his or her ability to sense pressure are assessed. We also measure the patient’s sensitivity to
vibration. Additional neurologic and imaging tests may be needed to confirm the diagnosis.
Once the diagnosis is made, doctor and patient can take steps to reduce his or her susceptibility to neuropathy.
Treatment and Prevention
Treating diabetic peripheral neuropathy begins with controlling blood sugar. Medications may alleviate some symptoms such as tingling feet. Physical therapy may help some patients with balance or other problems.
The patient and doctor are partners in managing diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Their joint objectives and responsibilities include:
- Controlling blood sugar levels
- Choosing footwear that won’t irritate the feet
- Inspecting the feet every day.
- Scheduling regular visits with our clinics in DeSoto, Sunnyvale or Dallas to ensure that the disease is managed properly.