About one-third to one-half of people with diabetes have a type of nerve damage known as peripheral neuropathy, according to the National Institutes of Health. This condition involves the nerves affecting the legs and feet, and sometimes the arms and hands. If blood sugars remain elevated for a long time, this can compromise the arteries and blood flow, leading to nerve damage, explains James Stough, DPM, a podiatrist with St. Mary’s Physician Associates.
In addition to tingling or numbness, symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can include pain or burning in the feet, which may get worse at night. In some cases, patients may lose feeling in their feet. Other times, it may feel like they’re wearing socks, even when they’re barefoot, Dr. Stough says.
“The best treatment approach is appropriate management of diabetes,” Dr. Stough emphasizes. “That is the number one treatment.” If left untreated, symptoms can worsen. For patients who lose sensation in their feet, problems may develop because they don’t recognize heat or cold or pain.
They may not notice if they are standing in bath water that is too hot, or if they have a stone or sharp object in their shoe. This can lead to problems like skin ulcers and infections. In more extreme cases, bone infections and possibly amputation may result. If you have peripheral neuropathy, Dr. Stough says it’s important to inspect your feet every day for cuts and other problems, and use a mirror or have another person check the bottoms of your feet. Also, he advises testing your bath water with your elbow to make sure it’s not too hot.
To some degree, nerve damage is irreversible, says Dr. Stough, but treatment and proactive care can help. Most importantly, if you are diagnosed with diabetes it’s essential to keep your blood sugar under control and see your doctor regularly.