Diabetes, which is thought to affect almost 400 million worldwide and up to 30 million in the U.S. alone, is well known for causing long-term consequences throughout the body. It elevates your risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, vision problems, and more. One common complication that affects your feet is diabetic peripheral neuropathy, a condition that can permanently damage nerves in your feet and ankles.
The Problem with Too Much Glucose
The problem is too much of a sugar called glucose in the bloodstream. Glucose seeps into to the nerve tissues and wreaks havoc, causing them to work improperly (or not at all). In the beginning you may notice tingling or a burning sensation. Later, you may lose your ability to distinguish between sharp and dull or hot and cold. As the disease progresses, your feet will become more and more numb. Although the entire process happens gradually, usually developing and worsening over a period of several years, most of the damage is thought to be irreversible.
Complications Can Become a Major Concern
Although pain and numbness aren’t much fun, the most significant concern for those with diabetic peripheral neuropathy is not so much the condition itself, but rather what can happen to your feet without you noticing as a result of that numbness. If you’ve lost the ability to feel friction or pain, you may not realize when you get a blister, cut, puncture wound, or in some cases even a broken bone. As you continue to walk on these injuries, or allow them to fester, ulcers and wounds can form and become infected, and injuries can cause deformities necessitating emergency care (and in extreme cases even amputation). Burns, frostbite, or prolonged exposure to dampness (which can cause bacterial and fungal infections) can also be easily overlooked.
Caring for a Foot Affected by Nerve Damage
Our office is equipped with a machine called a Doppler, which will help us quickly measure the blood flow in the feet and ankles via a non-invasive procedure. We may also try a number of other high-tech tests combined with some good old-fashioned physical examinations and talk to you about your symptoms in order to make a diagnosis.
The most important thing to remember with diabetic peripheral neuropathy is that, while most of the damage may be irreversible, you are not helpless. With our help, you possess the ability to halt the progression of nerve degradation, as well as take steps to protect your feet from subsequent damage.
The biggest and most important step: keep your glucose under control. Excess blood sugar is what causes the damage, so if you manage your diabetes well and keep your sugar within normal levels, the progression of the disease can be significantly slowed, or even halted altogether. Eat a healthy diet, get plenty of exercise, and refrain from smoking or abusing alcohol as well.
Learning How to Prevent Complications
If you are already experiencing significant numbness, you’ll need to take special care to avoid injuries and, especially, the ulcers, wounds, and infections that can result from not catching them in time. Thoroughly check your feet every day (enlist a mirror or friend if need be) for cuts, scrapes, cracks, blisters, redness, swelling, or anything out of the ordinary. If you notice anything, contact Dr. Parker right away.
Going barefoot is a definite no-go for those with significant sensitivity loss. Always wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes that protect you both from exterior damage (like stepping on a sharp rock) and interior damage (like corns or blisters caused by too much friction from a shoe that’s too tight in the toe box). You may consider a pair of specially made diabetic shoes as well.
If you suspect peripheral neuropathy—even if you’ve never had a diabetes diagnosis before—call our office for an appointment. For many undiagnosed sufferers, sensation loss in their lower limbs is one of the first signs that something is wrong. Furthermore, even though the damage progresses slowly, seeking treatment and making lifestyle changes as early as possible will preserve the maximum amount of function and help you maintain the highest possible quality of life now and in the years to come. You can reach Dr. Parker’s office online through this website, or by calling (281) 497-2850.