If You Have Diabetes, You Must Know About Diabetic Neuropathy
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you’ve probably already received a fair share of health warnings. You’ve likely been recommended changes to diet, exercise, and other lifestyle choices to help avoid complications from this disease.
And the thing is, all those warnings are right. Managing diabetes properly means being proactive regarding a number of potential complications it can cause, and there is one that we podiatrists are especially concerned about: diabetic neuropathy.
The more you know about diabetic neuropathy and how it progresses, the more you can do to safeguard yourself against its consequences.
We are always willing to discuss neuropathy (as well as any other diabetic needs) with our patients, so never hesitate to call us whenever you have any concerns. We’ll be happy to help!
What is Diabetic Neuropathy?
Diabetes can have many effects on the body, and a particularly worrisome one is nerve damage (aka neuropathy).
High levels of glucose in the blood can cause damage to your nerves. Additionally, diabetes can also begin to constrict circulation, leading to a reduced blood flow and a lower supply of the nutrients and other elements blood carries that nerves need to stay healthy.
Why is Diabetic Neuropathy Dangerous to Our Feet?
Diabetic neuropathy can happen just about anywhere throughout the body, but it tends to be most common and problematic in the feet. Why is that?
The first reason is mainly physics. The feet are the farthest area from your heart, so getting blood there is more challenging even if your circulatory system is perfectly healthy. When problems start to develop with blood flow in general, the feet will often start feeling the effects first and most severely.
The second reason has to do with how important nerves are to the feet. We need them to feel sensations such as heat and pain. Without those sensations, damage can happen to our feet and we might not realize it.
Imagine having a cut on your foot that you keep walking on all day because you don’t know it’s there. It’s gradually going to become more open due to the forces being placed upon it.
And if circulation isn’t bringing enough oxygen and nutrients for your nerves to function well, it’s also not bringing enough for your cells to conduct repairs and heal well, either. That means a wound can easily remain on your foot for a long time, greatly increasing the risk of infection and other very serious problems.
We want to prevent diabetic neuropathy from progressing to situations such as these as much as possible, which is why we are so engaged in preventative care with our patients.
How Does Diabetic Neuropathy Progress?
Taking steps now to help prevent neuropathy is always wise, but it’s also important to know how it can feel when the condition progresses.
Neuropathy symptoms in general can often be divided into five stages as your nerves become increasingly damaged:
- Intermittent Pain and Numbness. Your feet may occasionally not feel “right.” They might feel slightly numb sometimes, or you have brief periods of inexplicable pain that can be weeks or even months apart.
- More Consistent Pain. You notice numbness, tingling, or pain is becoming more frequent or lasting for longer periods. The discomfort is becoming harder to ignore.
- Pain at its Peak. In the third stage, pain is a constant and/or daily occurrence, and likely at its most intense.
- Increasing Numbness. Pain is starting to decline, but this is not a good thing. It is due to your nerves essentially dying and becoming destroyed. You might also be experiencing increased difficulty maintaining balance.
- Total Loss of Sensation. Nerves have disintegrated to the point that you can no longer feel pain. Not only is this highly dangerous when it comes to wounds developing on your feet, but you may no longer be able to operate a car or even walk safely anymore.
The key to knowing these symptoms is responding to them as early as possible. If you have diabetes, there is absolutely no reason not to report intermittent numbness or pain in your feet if you’re feeling it—even if it’s weeks or months apart. Knowing this information can be essential to providing effective treatment to greatly slow or even stop progression of your neuropathy.
What Can Be Done?
An unfortunate aspect of neuropathy is that our nerves do not always restore or repair themselves. The more damage that is done, the more likely that damage will last.
The primary goals of diabetic neuropathy treatment will always be to slow the progression of the condition, manage symptoms, and restore as much functionality to the feet and ankles as possible.
Potential parts of an overall treatment plan might include (but are not be limited to):
- Continued strict management of blood sugar levels.
- Changes in diet.
- Changes in footwear, perhaps including the use of custom orthotics to provide greater stability and protection.
- Changes in exercise and activity.
- The use of laser therapy to help relieve pain and accelerate healing of injuries.
- The use of medications.
The more we understand about your condition and how it is affecting your life, the better we can tailor a treatment plan to meet your specific needs.
Neuropathy is a ‘Now’ Type of Problem
If you have diabetes and your feet currently feel fine, that’s great! We still highly recommend speaking with us about the best ways to keep your feet that way. There is truly no time too soon, and there is plenty that can be done now to help ensure healthier feet in your future.
Schedule an appointment with Community Foot Clinic of McPherson by calling any of our area offices: