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Peripheral Neuropathy

High blood sugars increase the risk of a nerve disease called peripheral neuropathy.
This affects the nerves that signal the brain about how things feel. If you step on a piece of broken glass, these nerves send a message to your brain that you are in pain. Other nerves that suffer damage are those that send messages from the brain to the body about movement. These nerves signal you to lift your foot off the glass.

This nerve disease mostly affects the legs and feet, but it may also involve the nerves in the arms and hands. The symptoms below usually occur on both sides of the body:

  • Pins and needles, burning or tingling, usually worse at night. The pain of this nerve disease may be constant. Since it is worse at night, it can get in the way of a good night's sleep.
  • Not able to feel hot and cold, touch, pressure or vibration
  • Numbness or loss of feeling
  • Not able to sense the position of your toes and feet or to feel your feet when walking
  • Loss of balance
  • Cold hands or feet
  • Swelling or changes in the shape of your feet. If the shape of the foot has changed, special footwear are often needed
  • Loss of muscle tone

Loss of feeling in the feet can lead to severe problems.

  • Sores, cuts and injury may not be noticed if the foot is numb.
  • Because high blood sugars slow healing, infections from these wounds can spread quickly.
  • Poor blood flow to the feet, a common problem in diabetes, also impairs healing. If the infection becomes so severe, amputation (removal of a toe, foot or leg) may be needed.

In short, this nerve disease can really affect the quality of your life.

The good news: you can prevent nerve damage with good blood sugar control.
A recent study showed that tight blood sugar control could reduce the risk of nerve disease by 60%. To prevent nerve damage, strive to:

  • Keep your hemoglobin A1c at 7% or less (a 3 month average blood sugar test)
  • Check your feet daily for cuts or open sores
  • Always wear shoes, never go barefoot
  • Control blood pressure
  • Don't smoke
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exercise most days
  • Avoid or limit alcohol

If you have further questions about peripheral neuropathy, contact your diabetes healthcare team.