Nerve Damage and Diabetes

June 10, 2014

Mercy Clinic Endocrinologist Natalya Rukhman, MD.

Pain, tingling and numbness in the feet and balance problems are common health issues for people with diabetes, and those issues, known as diabetes peripheral neuropathy, can be serious if left ignored.

As more people are diagnosed with diabetes, more people are suffering from diabetic peripheral neuropathy, a condition that leaves many people vulnerable to falls, foot injuries and even limb amputation.  

“The majority of people with uncontrolled diabetes will eventually have at least some symptoms of peripheral neuropathy,” said Mercy Clinic Endocrinologist Natalya Rukhman, MD. “It’s caused by prolonged high glucose levels in the bloodstream. Over time, the nerve fibers are damaged. The best defense is to manage blood-sugar levels, and that means managing diabetes.” 

While nerve damage is irreversible, people can take steps to prevent further damage. Along with managing blood-glucose levels with medications, weight loss and weight management, a restricted diet and increased activity, people with diabetes should take extra care of their feet and legs.

“People with diabetes should wear shoes, keep toes and feet clean and manicured, and immediately care for cuts and scrapes to avoid infections,” said Dr. Rukhman  “They should also be screened annually for diabetic peripheral neuropathy to catch early warning signs and try to stave off nerve damage.”

Diabetic peripheral neuropathy can occur whether a person has Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes or the more common Type 2 (adult onset) diabetes.

More people are of all ages are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention reports that if current diagnosing trends continue, 1 of 3 U.S. adults will have diabetes by 2050. The CDC also reports that diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness, kidney failure and leg and feet amputations in adults unrelated to accidents or injury.

To raise awareness about the serious health issues surrounding diabetes, the Missouri Legislature recognizes the third week of June of each year as Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy (DPN) Week in Missouri. In Missouri alone:

  • As of 2012, 10.7 percent of Missourians were diagnosed with diabetes
  • From 1999 to 2009, diabetes prevalence in Missouri increased by 43 percent
  • Approximately half of all diabetics have DPN

Risk factors for diabetes include advancing age, obesity, family history and inactivity. Ask your Mercy Clinic physician if you might be at risk for diabetes or diabetic peripheral neuropathy.

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