How Diabetes Affects Nerve Endings
Diabetes is a disease that affects many systems of the body. Commonly, people associate this disease with highs and lows in blood sugar levels. However, diabetic neuropathy, or diabetic nerve damage, is one of the major issues people face as the disease progresses. In fact, upwards of 60 percent of patients experience some sort of nerve damage. Over time, as the disease progresses, neuropathy can affect the entire body, from the hands and feet to the heart.
Diabetic nerve damage is more common in those who do not successfully control blood glucose levels and blood pressure, and those who have had the disease for decades.
Damage to the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to nerves is often the leading factor of nerve damage in diabetics. Inflammation of the nerve endings caused by uncontrolled blood glucose levels, high blood pressure, low insulin levels and even obesity contribute to neuropathy.
Do You Have Diabetic Nerve Damage?
Often, the first signs of diabetic neuropathy manifest as numbness, pain and/or tingling in the feet. These sensations can travel to various parts of the body including the hands, arms and legs and, depending on the individual, symptoms can develop slowly over years or come on suddenly. It has been compared to pins and needles when your hand or foot falls asleep. The feeling is uncomfortable and the tingle and numbing continues for a few minutes, but then subsides once blood circulation is improved in the limb. With diabetic nerve damage, however, you cannot shake this sensation off and the pain, tingling and numbness affects your everyday quality of life.
Because we have nerve endings throughout our bodies, diabetic neuropathy can also affect all organs and systems of the body: from the heart, blood vessels, and eyes to sex organs and the urinary and digestive systems. For this reason, it’s very important to keep blood glucose levels within normal range and effectively manage the disease for the long term through diet and lifestyle changes. These are all key focuses at Pain and Spine Specialists.
Tips for preventing or delaying diabetic nerve damage:
- Keep blood glucose levels within the normal range. At Pain and Spine specialists, we focus on prevention of disease as well as effective management of diabetes to help our patients control the disease and avoid damage to nerves over time. We work with patients on important diet changes with includes meal planning, exercise and managing medications, when needed. Daily use of a blood glucose meter is recommended to track blood glucose levels.
- Take an A1C test at least twice a year. The American Diabetes Association recommends an A1C test to find out your average blood sugar levels over several months.
- Report symptoms of neuropathy to your doctor immediately. Early treatment can slow the progression of nerve damage through proper management of your disease, including diet.
- Check your feet. Because the nerve endings in your feet are often the first to be affected by diabetic neuropathy, it’s important to take good care of your feet. Inspect your feet regularly for sores, bumps, dry skin and swelling. Neuropathy in the feet dulls your ability to sense pain which can lead to injuries.
- Get special shoes to protect your feet if you experience nerve damage. Always have your doctor examine your feet if you feel tingling or pain.