Diabetic Neuropathy Facts

People with diabetes can develop nerve problems at any time, but significant clinical neuropathy can develop within the first 10 years after receiving a diabetes diagnosis. Learn more about diabetic neuropathy ›

Don’t Let Nerve Pain Keep You on the Sidelines

Regular exercise is important for controlling your diabetes. That doesn't change just because you have neuropathy or nerve damage caused by high blood sugar. But you may have to take special precautions to stay in the game.

Physical activity keeps your weight and cholesterol down. It also helps your blood sugar stay in check. Your nerve damage is less likely to progress when these factors are in control.

When you have diabetes and neuropathy, your chances of falling are higher than normal. But exercises that improve your strength and balance can counter this risk. What's more, regular physical activity:

  • Reduces your risk for heart disease

  • Helps you maintain your ability to do everyday tasks

  • Prevents and helps manage other diabetes complications, including kidney and eye problems

Learn more about Nerve Pain

Treat Your Feet Right When You Have Diabetes

You've just received a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. There are many things that come to mind: What can I do to keep myself healthy? What diet do I need to follow? How do I check my blood sugar? But there is another question you should talk to your doctor about--how to protect your feet.

If you have diabetes, you have blood sugar levels that are too high. Over time, this can damage your nerves and the blood vessels in your body. Damaged blood vessels mean your feet aren't getting enough oxygen or blood. With nerve damage, you may experience burning pain or a loss of feeling in your feet. It's why a small blister can turn into a major problem in the form of an ulcer.

Working With Your Diabetes Health Care Team

If you have diabetes, you have plenty of company. The number of adults diagnosed with diabetes is increasing daily. You should also be keeping company with a number of health care providers, from your primary care physician to your dentist, eye doctor, and foot doctor.

Diabetes affects the body in many complex ways, and having a team to help you stay as healthy and vital as possible, for as long as possible, is key.

Yet no matter how much you depend on health care providers, you also have an important role as team leader.

"You need to be in charge of your own health," says Karmeen Kulkarni, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., from the American Diabetes Association (ADA). "If you're invested in your care—monitoring it, keeping track of appointments and follow-up visits and engaging in a healthful lifestyle—you'll feel better. It will make a big difference in your life."

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Clinical Complications of Diabetes

Clinical complications associated with diabetes may include the following:

  • Cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease, in many cases, is caused by atherosclerosis—an excess build-up of plaque on the inner wall of a large blood vessel, which restricts the flow of blood. Heart disease is the leading cause of diabetes-related deaths. Heart disease and stroke are two to four times more common in persons with diabetes.

  • Hypertension. High blood pressure affects as many as two out of three people who have diabetes.

  • Dental disease. Periodontal (gum) disease occurs with greater frequency in persons with diabetes.

  • Retinopathy or glaucoma (eye disease or blindness). Blindness due to diabetic retinopathy is a more important cause of visual impairment in younger-onset people than in older-onset people. Males with younger-onset diabetes generally develop retinopathy more rapidly than females with younger-onset diabetes. Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults between ages 20 and 74.

  • Renal disease (kidney/urinary tract disease). Diabetes is the leading cause of end-stage renal disease (ESRD), a condition in which the patient requires dialysis or a kidney transplant in order to live.

  • Neuropathy (nerve disease). Approximately 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of diabetic nerve damage. Severe forms of diabetic nerve disease are the major contributing cause of lower-extremity amputations.

  • Amputation. More than 60 percent of non-traumatic lower-limb amputations in the U.S. occur among people with diabetes.

  • Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). DKA is one of the most serious outcomes of poorly controlled diabetes, and primarily occurs in persons with type 1 diabetes. DKA is marked by high blood glucose levels along with ketones in the urine.

Learn more about the complications of Diabetes

Diabetic Neuropathy

Diabetic neuropathy, a nerve disorder, is a complication of diabetes that can lead to problems throughout the body.

Persons with diabetes can develop nerve problems at any time, but significant clinical neuropathy can develop within the first 10 years after receiving a diabetes diagnosis. The risk of developing neuropathy increases the longer a person has diabetes. About half of people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy.

Although the exact causes of diabetic neuropathy are unknown, several factors may contribute to the disorder, including the following:

  • high blood glucose
    High blood glucose causes chemical changes in nerves and impairs the nerves' ability to transmit signals. It also has the potential to damage blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to the nerves.

  • inherited factors
    There are some genetic traits that may make some people more susceptible to nerve disease than others.

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