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Understanding Diabetic Nerve Damage

Manage your blood sugar to prevent diabetic neuropathy

A Veteran having his foot examined by his doctorAbout half of all people with diabetes have some form of nerve damage. That damage is called neuropathy and can be painful or result in loss of protection sensation. Diabetic neuropathy is a serious and common problem of diabetes. It usually develops slowly, sometimes throughout several decades. It most often damages nerves in your feet.

Depending on the affected nerves, symptoms of diabetic neuropathy can range from pain and numbness in your legs and feet to problems with your digestive system, urinary tract, blood vessels, and heart. Some people have mild symptoms. But for others, diabetic neuropathy can be discomforting or painful and, in some cases, disabling. It's a common and potentially serious complication of diabetes. You can often prevent diabetic neuropathy or slow its progress with tight blood sugar control and a healthy lifestyle.

Different kinds of neuropathy

There are different types of diabetic neuropathy that affect different areas of your body, causing a variety of symptoms. The most common type, peripheral neuropathy, causes pain or loss of feeling in the toes, feet, legs, hands, and arms. Another type, autonomic neuropathy, can cause changes in your digestion, bowel and bladder function, sexual response, and perspiration. It can also affect nerves in the lungs, eyes, and heart. If you have diabetes, contact your doctor if have any symptoms of neuropathy. Also, you should have your feet evaluated to determine if you have loss of protective sensation; this can result in your inability to feel some objects in your shoe and thus increases your risk of foot infections or ulcers.

Spot the symptoms

Tingling, numbness, and pain are all common symptoms of diabetic neuropathy and often do not begin until many years after diabetes has been diagnosed. Other signs of diabetic nerve damage include:

  • muscles weakness

  • indigestion, nausea, or vomiting

  • diarrhea or constipation

  • dizziness or fainting due to a drop in blood pressure after standing or sitting up

  • problems with urination and sexual function

If nerve damage causes you to lose feeling in your feet and legs, you may not notice when you step on something sharp or bump your toes against an object. You may not realize when you touch something too hot or too cold, leading to further injury.

Monitor your blood sugar

Protect yourself and prevent diabetic neuropathy by tracking your blood sugar levels. Keeping a record of your levels and sharing it with your health care team can help to understand your body's response to your diabetes care plan. Use your Premium My HealtheVet account to track your blood sugar levels and avoid developing further health conditions. Secure Messaging is also a convenient way to reach out to your health care team.

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Read More

Diabetes and Nerve Damage (MedlinePlus)

Long-Term Complications of Diabetes (Veterans Health Library)

Diabetic Neuropathies: The Nerve Damage of Diabetes (PDF) (VA)

Updated June 12, 2022