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Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy

Nerve damage, or neuropathy, that is caused by diabetes is known as diabetic neuropathy. When the nerve damage is occurs in the arms, hands, legs, or feet—the extremities—the condition is known as diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Sensory nerves that allow us to feel sensations such as pain and temperature, motor nerves that allow control over our muscles, and autonomic nerves which perform involuntary functions may be affected by this condition.

The condition worsens over time and may even be present prior to a diagnosis of diabetes. If you have diabetes for years, you may be at a higher risk of diabetic neuropathy, including diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Nerve damage may lead to other health concerns including ulcers on the skin, or even amputation of a limb.

Do not confuse diabetic peripheral neuropathy with peripheral arterial disease, which affects circulation instead of nerves.

Causes of Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy

Most cases of diabetic peripheral neuropathy are the result of improper treatment and control of diabetes, but it is not limited to those who ineffectively manage their diabetes. The condition may be the result of high blood glucose or narrow blood vessels, and as it gets worse patients may experience skin ulcers.

Conditions in which the motor nerves are affected may result in hammertoes, bunions, or other deformities of the feet that can lead one’s footwear to fit improperly. If the sensory nerves become damaged, the skin may be numb and the individual unaware of their shoes rubbing against the skin. Some with damage to the autonomic nerves may develop cracking of the skin. Some may injure their foot or other appendage and not realize it if the sensory nerves are affected.

Symptoms of Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy

Symptoms of this condition often vary depending on the type of nerves affected, i.e. sensory, motor, or autonomic. Those who have sensory neuropathy may experience numbness and tingling in the feet, while some may feel discomfort in the area.
Individuals who have motor neuropathy may experience problems with their balance, changes in the structure of their feet leading to an uneven distribution of weight on the foot, or weakness in the muscles. Those who are suffering autonomic neuropathy may experience dry and cracking skin.

Diagnosis of Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy

Various tests and evaluations may be used to determine the presence of diabetic peripheral neuropathy. A medical history will be taken, and the physician will discuss the patient’s symptoms with him or her. The physician may test the reflexes, sensory perception, and may order other neurologic tests depending on the circumstances.

Treatment of Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy

The patient will be instructed on controlling their blood sugar levels, as this is an important part of treating diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Medication may be used if tingling or numbness are present to provide relief from these symptoms, and some individuals may be encouraged to go to physical therapy to help them with other symptoms like difficulty balancing resulting from changes in foot structure.

Avoiding ill-fitting shoes and checking your feet for symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy may be recommended in controlling or recognizing the condition. What’s more, patients may be encouraged to speak with an endocrinologist and keep close communication with their primary care physician to help them control this condition and diabetes in general.