Diabetic Neuropathy

Diabetes is an ever-growing epidemic—already around 1 in 10 Americans of all ages lives (either knowingly or unknowingly) with the disease, with that rate increasing to 1 in 4 among those 65 and older. And those rates continue to get higher each year.

Diabetes is a contributing factor in many complications. One of these is diabetic neuropathy, a disorder that impairs the ability of peripheral nerves in feet and legs to operate normally or communicate correctly with the brain and spinal cord. Exposure to high levels of sugar in the blood over extended periods of time is toxic to the nerves, preventing them from getting the vital nutrients they need to thrive.

Diabetic Neuropathy Symptoms

 Neuropathy Symptoms

A range of symptoms may be present with diabetic neuropathy, depending on the nerves affected and the severity of the damage.

The most common is peripheral neuropathy, which typically presents as some combination of tingling, burning, numbness, or pain in the feet. Intermittent cramping, increased touch sensitivity, and muscle weakness are also possible, and the lack of proper sensation in feet and ankles can also contribute to loss of balance and coordination, as well as development of serious foot problems due to lack of appropriate pain response.

Diabetic neuropathy can also involve damage to the autonomic nervous system. These nerves control and regulate internal body functions such as the heart, digestive system, reproductive system, bladder, lungs and breathing, and others.

Medical Treatment Options

In addition to a physical examination and clinical history, your initial evaluation may also make use of X-rays to rule out other possible sources of pain, and further testing (such as an MRI, nerve function test, blood test, or nerve biopsy) may be ordered to ensure a proper diagnosis.

Diabetic neuropathy isn’t a “simple fix” condition. We’ll help you develop a comprehensive treatment plan, including referrals to other specialists (such as neurologists, rheumatologists, primary care doctors, and therapists) as necessary to stay on top of the issue.

Just as with diabetes, there’s no “cure” for neuropathy, and some nerve damage may not be reversible. However, we do offer a variety of oral and topical medications to limit further progression of the condition, relieve pain, and promote the highest possible level of nerve function.

Since neuropathy is often the first step toward more serious conditions, such as diabetic ulcers (which can become infected and lead to amputations—or worse), our treatment plan will also have a top focus on preventing future complications. Patient education is the single most important factor here, along with regular diabetic foot checkups and any necessary preventative or maintenance care.

A Healthy Lifestyle Makes the Biggest Difference

Making smart, healthy choices is foundational in both preventing diabetic neuropathy from occurring in the first place, as well as slowing or stopping advancement of the disease. Your approach should include:

  • Careful management of your blood sugar levels
  • Eating healthy, balanced, properly portioned meals that provide plenty of the veggies, fruits, and whole grains you need to nourish nerves and control body weight
  • Daily activity and exercise, although you may need a doctor-approved exercise plan if sensation loss in your feet makes certain sports or activities more risky
  • Quit smoking and either quit or carefully limit alcohol consumption
  • Carefully checking your feet every day for signs of swelling, redness, cuts, or other damage

If you have diabetic neuropathy, you need a team of specialists working for you, in order to keep you as mobile, active, and healthy as possible for as long as possible. Dr. Keith McSpadden and the staff at North Austin Foot & Ankle Institute are an important part of that team. To schedule an appointment, please give our office a call at (512) 593-2949. You can also request an appointment using our handy online contact form.