Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage associated with diabetes. It results in damage to the nerves in a person’s feet, legs, and eyes, and to the nerves that control bodily functions, such as digestion, blood pressure, and heart rate.
Diabetic neuropathy is likely caused by a combination of factors, including:
- Metabolic syndrome—A condition marked by elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, and body weight. Excess weight centered around the midsection is of particular concern
- Damage to blood vessels
- Autoimmune factors
This condition is more common in older adults.
Factors that may increase your risk of diabetic neuropathy include:
Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy may include:
- Numbness, tingling, or pain in the extremities
- Weakness in the arms and/or legs
- Nausea or vomiting
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Urination problems
- Erectile dysfunction or vaginal dryness
- Weakness of facial muscles resulting in a drooping eyelid, drooping mouth, facial droop, difficulty swallowing
- Muscle cramps
- A prolonged feeling of fullness after eating, and/or abdominal pain
- Decreased ability to sweat normally
If you have diabetic neuropathy, you are at increased risk for developing other types of neuropathies, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Diabetic neuropathy can lead to serious complications, including ulcers, infection, and limb loss.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. A foot exam will also be done.
Your nerve function may be tested. This can be done with:
- Nerve conduction studies
- Quantitative sensory testing—the use of stimuli to check for neuropathy
- Quantitative sudomotor axon reflex test—a test to evaluate the nerve supply of sweat glands
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with an ultrasound.
Your nerves may need to be tested. This can be done with a biopsy.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:
Blood Glucose Management
It is important to regularly monitor blood glucose levels. You can bring them within normal range with meal planning, exercise, and/or medications.
If you have diabetic neuropathy, you will need to take special care of your feet. The nerves in the feet are the ones most often affected by neuropathy. This care will involve regular visits to a foot doctor and careful cleaning, inspection, moisturizing, and grooming of your feet. In addition, always wear well-fitting shoes and thick, soft, seamless socks to help protect your feet from injuries.
If you have painful diabetic neuropathy, nerve decompression surgery may be done to reduce pain. Talk to your doctor about whether this option is right for you.
Other treatments will depend on your symptoms. Medications can be used to relieve pain, burning, tingling, or numbness. Often, the medications used to treat these symptoms are the same ones used to treat seizures and depression.
Another option to treat pain is called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). With TENS, a machine sends painless electrical signals through the skin to the nerves. Your doctor may offer this treatment.
The best way to prevent diabetic neuropathy is to regularly monitor and manage your blood glucose levels. Your doctor can instruct you about how often to check your levels and what the numbers mean.
- Reviewer: Kim Carmichael, MD
- Review Date: 09/2016 -
- Update Date: 09/08/2015 -