The Nerve Complications
People with diabetes can and should expect to live a
full and normal life with diabetes as free as possible of the complications
of diabetes. There are a number of such complications, one of which is
an affect on the nerves.
What is Neuropathy?
By “Nerves” it
is not meant how much you worry – it’s
not the same as being nervous which is about being anxious. As you
probably know, the nerves are cords that carry small electric messages
fro the brain to the body that allow the brain to control the body.
Neuropathy is damage to the nerves that travel between the brain and
the spinal cord to the muscles, skin and other parts of the body. Neuropathy
can be caused by diabetes, but it can be caused by other illnesses, a
poor lifestyle and the nerve function does get slower as we get older.
Why does neuropathy develop
High blood sugar levels over a period
of time lead to chemical changes in the nerves and can also block
the very small blood vessels that supply the nerves with oxygen.
This can damage the nerves.
What types of neuropathy can develop
There are three main types: Sensory, Autonomic and
It is the
most common type and mainly affects the nerves in the feet and legs
and occasionally the hands. This can cause feeling of numbness, tingling
or ‘pins and needles’. Some people may develop
a feeling as if they are walking over sharp stones. Neuropathy may
also cause burning pains in the legs, especially in bed at night,
shooting pains or sometimes over-sensitivity to even slight touch.
Your balance may be affected and you may stumble for no reason.
People with numb feet are at a greater risk of injury which they are
not aware of. Taking good care of your feet is the best way to avoid
It is less common.
It affects the organs which work without us being aware of them- the
stomach, bowels, heart, bladder and sweat glands. This may cause a problem
with bladder and bowel function or difficulties in digesting food including
Whilst this is common, it is quite rare for it to be
so bad as to cause symptoms in its own right. It might cause weakness
of muscles especially in the legs and hands. It can alter the shape
of the feet and cause problems with shoes which might lead to problems
with walking and to foot ulcers. In the hands, you may get weakness that
causes difficulty with day-to-day task and also with injecting insulin
and blood testing.
What can I do to prevent developing
You could cut down your risk of developing neuropathy
by keeping your blood sugar levels under control. If you already have
neuropathy, keeping blood sugar levels under control will prevent it
Drinking excess alcohol can make matters much worse because
that also damages the nerves. Smoking affects the circulation and poisons
the nerves so that to is again harmful. A poor diet may lead to poor
nutrition that can cause damage.
How do I prevent a foot ulcer?
the foot care advice given by your Podiatrist/ Chiropodist, nurse or
GP. Attend the chiropodist regularly. You may need to be referred to
an Orthotist to provide you with appropriate footwear.
Is there any treatment for painful
As well as getting good control of your diabetes,
there are a number of medical treatments available. Treating the pain
from diabetic neuropathy takes patience and persistence. The most important
thing is to take the treatment regularly even if the pain has lessened.
If none of the pain relief tablets work, ask to be referred to the
diabetes clinic or to the pain clinic. .
Seeking Advice and what care to expect
should be examined regularly to see if neuropathy is developing – usually
this is done when your feet are tested for feeling. If you have neuropathy,
you will get special advice on how to care for your feet. Your medical
team will also look for other conditions that can cause nerve damage
such as circulation problems, vitamin deficiencies or thyroid problems
and they will advise you about your lifestyle. If you have problems
with pain, they will consider tablet and other treatments for this.