Diabetic neuropathy is a common condition, affecting more than half of diabetics. Neuropathy means nerve damage, and it can cause problems in just about any part of your body, although it is most often an issue in your legs and feet.
Poorly controlled blood sugar causes damage to small blood vessels that feed your nerves. Sometimes this damage can occur early in the disease, but usually it is more of an issue with long-term diabetes. Tight control of your blood sugars can help you delay or prevent neuropathy.
There are several types of diabetic neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is what most people probably think of when they hear the term diabetic neuropathy. It can affect your arms, legs, hands and feet. Autonomic neuropathy is a problem with the nerves in your autonomic nervous system, meaning your organs and blood vessels. The best-known autonomic nerve problem related to diabetes is gastroparesis, or a slowed down digestive system. This can be a very complex problem, making it difficult to manage blood sugar. Other neuropathic problems cause issues such as foot drop, head and back pain.
When the nerves in your extremities are damaged by diabetes, you may feel nothing, or you may feel numbness, tingling, weakness or pain. The pain associated with neuropathy can be severe. In addition to the pain, neuropathy can be dangerous, because you may not feel an injury to your foot, and this puts you at risk for infection. Not only can you step on something sharp or hot without realizing it, but the decreased blood flow to your legs and feet also slows healing, giving bacteria and fungus more time to grow.
The best way to slow or avoid neuropathy is with tight control of your blood sugar. Work with your health care team on a healthy diet, medication regimen, and sick day management to keep as good a handle on your food and insulin levels as possible. Exercise daily, and be sure to check your feet every day for breaks in the skin.
It is important to take special care of your skin when you are diabetic, but most of all it is crucial to wash and dry your feet well, put lotion on if your skin is dry, and wear shoes that fit but are not tight.