Diabetic neuropathy is a complication of diabetes that results in damage to the nervous system. It is a progressive disease, and symptoms tend to worsen over time. Nerves are essential to how the body functions; they control sensation, movement, and automated functions like breathing and heartbeat. Once nerves are damaged, the control signals are reduced or lost.
Damage can affect virtually any nerve in the body, with a wide range of symptoms depending on the nerves affected. Elevated blood sugar levels over long periods in a diabetic patient eventually cause the development of nerve damage throughout the body.
Early nerve damage may not have any obvious signs or symptoms. As the damage worsens, a diabetic person may experience loss of tactile sensation, burning pain or tingling in the feet and hands. Because sensation has diminished in a diabetic patient, any injury sustained (i.e. a cut on the foot, development of a blister, an inflamed ingrown toenail, etc.) may not be noticed in time. A wound which is left untreated can fester and develop an infection that can spread quickly. This can lead to extensive tissue death (gangrene), leaving diabetic patients to fight for their life or face amputation of the affected limb.
Four main types of neuropathy can impact on the nervous system, including:
Podiatry encounters and often treats peripheral neuropathy and mononeuropathies in diabetic patients.
Diabetic neuropathy worsens with time, regardless of the maintenance of sugar and fat control. This is a secondary effect of diabetes and will cause patients greater problems with co-morbidities, as it affects their daily bodily functions. Even without the development of abnormal pains, patients will be at risk for falls if they do not address the early signs of diabetic neuropathy.
Proactive prevention is always better than reactive treatment, when it comes to the diabetic foot. At-risk diabetic patients should be seen every 3 to 6 months to ensure that the foot status is maintained. Low-risk diabetic patients should be seen yearly if there are no major concerns with the integrity of the foot and lower limb. Please contact your podiatrist to find out more.
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