When you have diabetes, a common side effect is nerve damage. This is called diabetic neuropathy, and it occurs when your blood sugar levels are too high and harm delicate nerve fibers. High blood sugar is an issue because it can interfere with the nerves ability to properly transmit signals throughout the body, and it can also weaken the walls of capillaries supplying nerves with oxygen and nutrients.
Causes and Types of Diabetic Neuropathy
Diabetic neuropathy can be painful and cause a variety of complications, so it’s important first and foremost that you’re effectively managing your blood sugar levels. Besides having high blood sugar, diabetic nerve pain and damage can be caused by factors due to genetics, inflammation in the nerves due to an autoimmune response, or smoking and alcohol abuse. You’re more susceptible to develop neuropathy if you’ve had diabetes for a long time, if you’re overweight, have kidney disease, and aren’t properly controlling your blood sugar levels.
There are four types of diabetic neuropathy, including:
- Peripheral Neuropathy, which affects the feet and legs, with symptoms like pain, tingling, numbness and burning.
- Autonomic Neuropathy, which affects the digestive system, blood vessels and urinary system.
- Proximal Neuropathy, which leads to pain in the hips and thighs or weakness in the legs.
- Focal Neuropathy, which affects specific nerves usually in the head, torso or legs and causes muscle pain and weakness.
Avoiding Complications from Diabetic Nerve Damage
According to the American Diabetes Association, about half of all people with diabetes have some form of nerve damage. Diabetic neuropathy can cause a number of serious complications, including losing a limb, Charcot joint (join deterioration due to nerve damage), urinary tract infections and urinary incontinence, digestive issues, low blood pressure and hypoglycemia unawareness. While there isn’t currently a cure for diabetic neuropathy, there are certain steps you can take to help prevent or delay nerve damage. If you already have diabetic neuropathy, these same steps can help prevent further damage and can lessen your symptoms.
- Check your blood glucose levels. Make sure you’re controlling your blood sugar and are keeping it consistently within your target range. Get an A1C test at least twice a year to find out your average blood glucose for the past two to three months.
- Take care of your feet. Check your feet daily for any sores, cuts, blisters, etc. If you can’t feel pain in your feet, you might not notice when you’re injured, and this can lead to ulcers and even amputation.
- Get plenty of physical activity. Staying active will improve your heart rate and increase blood flow, and can help keep your blood sugar and blood pressure under control. It’s important to note that some exercises might not be safe for those already with diabetic neuropathy, so talk to a doctor before you start any workout regimen.
- Watch your blood pressure. Diabetes and high blood pressure are not a good combination, as complications can arise due to damage in the blood vessels. Keep your blood pressure in the recommended range and get it checked often.
- Make healthy food choices. Eat a well-balanced diet full of veggies and whole grains, and limit your portion sizes to help you maintain a healthy weight.
- Stop smoking and avoid alcohol. People with diabetes who are also smokers are more likely to die of heart attack or stroke, as well as develop circulation issues in your feet. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how to quit. Also, try to avoid alcohol, or at the very least, drink in moderation.
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