If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes and notice numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness in your hands or feet, you may have a condition called diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that occurs when blood sugar levels remain high for too long. This condition usually develops gradually, sometimes over several decades. Triad Clinical Trials developed this resources page to provide information about diabetic neuropathy and hopefully answer questions you may have about this condition.
What are the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy?
While symptoms vary depending on the type of diabetic neuropathy you have and which nerves are affected, common signs and symptoms include:
- Sensitivity to touch
- Loss of sense of touch
- Difficulty with coordination when walking
- Numbness or pain in your hands or feet
- Burning sensation in the feet, especially at night
- Muscle weakness or wasting
- Bloating or fullness
- Nausea, indigestion, or vomiting
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Dizziness when you stand up
- Excessive or decreased sweating
- Bladder problems, such as incomplete bladder emptying
- Vaginal dryness
- Erectile dysfunction
- Inability to sense low blood glucose
- Vision trouble
- Increased heart rate
In addition to the above symptoms, diabetic neuropathy can cause several serious health complications, including severe infections, sharp drops in blood pressure, gastroparesis, and even the loss of a toe, foot, or leg.
What causes diabetic neuropathy?
People with diabetes have too much sugar in their blood. Diabetic neuropathy is a common complication of diabetes, as it develops as a result of having uncontrolled high blood sugar over a long period of time. Research suggests that, over time, uncontrolled high blood sugar damages nerves. The damage interferes with the nerves’ ability to send signals, leading to the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy.
Who’s at risk?
Anyone who has diabetes can develop diabetic neuropathy. However, the following risk factors make you more likely to develop the condition:
- Uncontrolled blood sugar: Diabetic neuropathy can develop or worsen if your blood sugar is consistently high.
- Having diabetes for a long time: Your risk of developing diabetic neuropathy increases the longer you have diabetes, especially if your blood sugar isn’t well managed.
- Having kidney disease: Diabetes can damage your kidneys. Toxins can enter the blood when this occurs, leading to nerve damage.
- Being overweight: Having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more may increase your risk of developing diabetic neuropathy.
- Smoking: Smoking narrows and hardens your arteries. This can reduce blood flow to your legs and feet, which can cause or worsen nerve damage.
Can diabetic neuropathy be prevented?
About half of all people with diabetes will develop diabetic neuropathy. However, there are steps you can take to prevent it from developing or worsening:
- Blood sugar management: Keeping your blood sugar levels on target is your best line of defense against diabetic neuropathy. For people with diabetes, The American Diabetes Association recommends maintaining an A1C of less than 7 percent. If you have diabetes, have an A1C test at least twice a year. If your A1C is too high, work with your doctor to change your daily management approach.
- Maintain a healthy diet: A big part of controlling your blood sugar is eating a healthy diet. Eliminate processed foods and refined sugar. Instead, focus on eating whole foods, including low-sugar fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, and lean meat.
- Exercise: Getting 150 minutes of exercise a week can improve your circulation, reducing your risk of nerve damage. It’s also a good idea to stand up every 30 minutes when sitting for long periods of time.
- Take care of your feet: Foot problems, particularly sores that won’t heal, are a common complication of diabetic neuropathy. To protect the health of your feet, check them every day for sores, keep your feet clean and dry, and wear cushioned shoes that fit well. If you notice a cut or sore, seek medical attention to prevent serious foot complications.
What are the treatment options?
There is currently no cure for diabetic neuropathy. As such, the treatment goals are to slow the progression of the condition, relieve pain, manage complications, and restore function. The tips in the section above are the best way to slow the progression of this condition. In terms of managing pain, several medications have been shown to help with symptoms, including anti-seizure drugs and antidepressants. Depending on the type of neuropathy you have, your doctor may suggest medications, therapies, or lifestyle changes to help prevent and manage complications.
In addition, there are several new diabetic neuropathy treatments that are only available in clinical trials. Clinical trials recruit patients who are interested in trying new therapies, and who want to contribute to innovative research that could one day bring new treatments to patients. These trials are free to participants and may include payment for time and travel. If you or someone you care about has diabetic neuropathy and are interested in learning more about paid research studies, sign up with Triad Clinical Trials today.
The content and/or opinions voiced in this Triad Clinical Trials resources page are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific healthcare advice or recommendations for any individual.