Nerve damage that occurs in people with diabetes is called diabetic neuropathy. This condition is a complicaiton of diabetes.
Diabetic neuropathy; Diabetes - neuropathy
In people with diabetes, the body's nerves can be damaged by decreased blood flow and a high blood sugar level. This condition is more likely when the blood sugar level is not well controlled.
About half of people with diabetes develop nerve damage. Symptoms often do not begin until many years after diabetes has been diagnosed. Some persons who have diabetes that develops slowly already have nerve damage when they are first diagnosed.
Symptoms often develop slowly over many years. The types of symptoms you have depend on the nerves that are affected.
Nerves in the feet and legs are most often affected. Symptoms usually start in the toes and feet, and include tingling or burning, or deep aching pain. Over time, nerve damage can also occur in the fingers and hands. As the damage gets worse, you will likely lose feeling in your feet and legs. Your skin will also become numb. Because of this, you may:
Not notice when you step on something sharp
Not know that you have a blister or small cut
Not notice when your feet or hands touch something that is too hot or cold
When the nerves that control digestion are affected, you may have trouble digesting food. This can make your diabetes harder to control. Damage to nerves that control digestion almost always occurs in people with severe nerve damage in their feet and legs. Symptoms of digestion problems include:
Feeling full after eating only a small amount of food
When you have nerve damage in your feet, the feeling in your feet can be reduced. You can even have no feeling at all. As a result, your feet may not heal well if they are injured. Caring for your feet can prevent minor problems from becoming so serious that you end up in the hospital.
Caring for your feet includes:
Checking your feet every day
Getting a foot exam each time you see your health care provider
Wearing the right kind of socks and shoes (ask your health care provider about this)
Many resources can help you understand more about diabetes. You can also learn ways to manage your diabetic nerve disease.
Nerve damage that hides the symptoms of the chest pain (angina) that warns of heart disease and a heart attack
Loss of a toe, foot, or leg through amputation, usually because of a bone infection that does not heal
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you develop any symptoms of diabetic neuropathy.
American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes -- 2014. Diabetes Care. 2014;37 Suppl 1:S14-S80.
Bril V, England J, Franklin GM, et al. Evidence-based guideline: Treatment of painful diabetic neuropathy: report of the American Academy of Neurology, the American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine, and the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Neurology. 2011;76:1758-1765.
Brent Wisse, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology & Nutrition, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.