Neuropathy refers to nerve damage in the body. More specifically, diabetic neuropathy speaks to damage caused by the effects of diabetes. Peripheral neuropathy is most commonly associated with diabetes and affects a patient’s legs, hands and feet.
There are many different kinds of nerves in the body including sensory and motor nerves. It is through these nerves that the brain and body are able communicate. When a body part suffers nerve damage, the body will be affected in a very specific manner. For example, if a sensory nerve in the foot is damaged, the foot’s ability to feel heat and pain will be affected. Similarly if motor nerve damage is encountered, the foot’s muscles will weaken and posture will be compromised.
Nerve damage in the feet can cause an array of problems including ulcers, corns and calluses. If left unnoticed and untreated, areas of the foot can get infected and could possibly, in severe cases, require amputation.
Diabetic Neuropathy – Causes
Diabetes inhibits the body’s ability to process glucose from food. Glucose, more commonly known as sugar, is used as energy in the body. When the body cannot properly breakdown glucose, there is a surplus in the blood. This surplus is known as high blood sugar levels and can cause nerve damage. For this reason it is extremely important that diabetics monitor their blood sugar levels on a daily basis.
Poor blood circulation is also a serious factor in diabetic neuropathy. Since diabetics often have poor circulation, nerves are not able to receive the oxygen and nutrients needed for maintaining their health. As a result nerve damage occurs.
Diabetic Neuropathy – Symptoms in the Feet
Many people that experience neuropathy from diabetes will first notice the effects in their feet. These effects occur both internally and externally and can be very painful. Also, the internal symptoms can affect those felt externally. For this reason peripheral neuropathy can have devastating effects on feet.
Burning and tingling sensations due to nerve damage within the foot are often felt. They can come and go and range in severity. Many patients will explain this symptom in different ways. Some will experience sharp shooting pains and others will experience constant burning pain.
Neuropathy can also cause a lack of coordination and sensitivity in feet. These are both a direct result of motor and sensory nerve damage. This will cause the muscles in the foot to weaken and thus adjust the posture of the foot.
As nerve damage progresses, a patient’s gait, also known as walking posture, can change. This gait change can add consistent pressure on feet and result in foot ulcers. When combining gait change and lack of sensation, feet can start rubbing against shoes, which can result in cracking of the skin, corns and calluses. With diminished sensation, wounds can often go unnoticed and untreated. If left untreated for an extended amount of time, wounds can get infected and may result in amputation.
Peripheral Neuropathy – Treatment and Diagnosis
Treating and diagnosing neuropathy can be very difficult because symptoms can vary in many ways. Testing reflexes, sensations, and foot strength will typically give a thorough examination of the nervous system. Understanding a patient’s medical history is also a critical component to fully diagnosing and treating neuropathy.
Maintaining a healthy diet and blood glucose levels is an effective way to treat neuropathy. Given the proper nutrients and blood glucose levels, nerves can repair themselves. This process can take several weeks, but has shown great results for many patients. While the body heals, prescription drugs can be issued to help manage the pain.
To reduce the effects of neuropathy and alleviate symptoms, custom orthotics can be prescribed. Orthotics will adjust the foot into proper alignment. This will help the foot avoid improper motions and pressure, which would otherwise cause wounds.