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Neuropathy & Diabetes

Neuropathy in diabetes occurs when the blood flow to the extremities, typically the hands, fingers, toes and feet, is restricted due to the narrowing of blood vessels. This narrowing of the blood vessels if found in both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, particularly if the blood glucose levels have been elevated for long periods of time. The lack of blood supply slowly kills the nerves, resulting in a variety of sensations followed by a lack of sensation. Since it often happens only in the extremities is may be referred to as peripheral neuropathy. 


Neuropathy can occur because of other reasons besides diabetes. The most common of these are traumatic injuries and exposure to toxins. In all cases the first symptoms noted are usually reported as a mild to moderate tingling sensations that may gradually feel more like a deep burning within the tissue. It can be irritating or painful depending on the nerves impacted by the loss of blood flow.


Although initially the neuropathy symptoms include the less severe types of sensations listed above it can also become incredibly painful. The nerves that control the movement of the fingers, toes, hands and feet may also cease to function causing erratic movement or the inability to move.  As the nerve tissue dies the painful sensations may turn into electric volt types of shocking sensations that happen randomly throughout the day and night. Although not common in diabetics the nerve damage can extend into the major nerves that control the bladder, bowels and the major muscle groups of the body.


In very severe cases of neuropathy the individual may not be able to tolerate any contact with the skin. This includes wearing clothing or even having a sheet, socks or shoes touching the affected area of the skin. While medications can be used to minimize the pain and sensitivity they tend to have many negative side effects that make them difficult to use for extended periods of time.


Early Diagnosis:


Any signs of tingling or burning in the fingers and toes combined with any of the risk factors for diabetes or prediabetes should be reported to your doctor. Without early diagnosis permanent neurological damage can occur with no option for reversal. At the very least the individual that is experience problems with neuropathy is not able to relax or sleep properly, which can add stress and anxiety that further contributes to problems with blood glucose regulation.


According to the Neuropathy Association there are as many as 20 million Americans that are diagnosed with the condition with over 30% of these individuals also diagnosed with diabetes. Early diagnosis may include working with a neurologist, a physician that specializes in nerves, to both provide rehabilitative therapies, preventative treatments and help to manage the pain and discomfort.


Associated Risks:


Diabetics that have neuropathy of the feet are particularly at risk for infections. This is because they often don't feel even very severe lesions, cuts and wounds and, with no pain, they have no sense of urgency for treatment. In addition shoes may be rubbing the feet and causing serious lesions and blisters that then become infected. If the infection becomes severe to goes into the deep tissue and bone amputation may be required.

Discussing any risks associated with neuropathy with your doctor is important. Regular daily foot checks as well as ensuring that all footwear fits properly are essential for those with neuropathy and diabetes.