Medical Column: Tingling in your Feet? It may be the Sweet Treats – Diabetes and the development of Neuropathy

By: Dr. Chuck Haddad
Family Medicine Resident
Colquitt Regional Medical Center

Have you had prolonged tingling or burning in your feet and are not sure of the cause? This may be one of the first signs of diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy is a common complication of diabetes where the nerves get damaged due to prolonged high blood sugar levels. This condition usually affects nerves in the hands and feet, so this is where symptoms usually first present. Understanding the causes, treatment options, and importantly prevention strategies are key in managing this condition and improving the quality of life of those affected.

The main cause of diabetic neuropathy is elevated blood sugars over a prolonged time. However other causes may be vitamin deficiencies, prolonged alcohol use, thyroid problems, and nerve injuries. Today we will discuss diabetes as the main cause. Over time, the increased sugars can damage the blood vessels that supply nutrients and oxygen to the nerves. When the nerves get damaged, this leads to dysfunction and degeneration of the nerves. There are multiple factors that play a role in individuals risk to this complication such as genes and dietary habits.

There are several types of diabetic neuropathy, each affecting different nerve sets with distinct symptoms. The most common kind of diabetic neuropathy is peripheral neuropathy which causes pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the legs and arms, usually starting at the soles and palms. Another kind of neuropathy is autonomic neuropathy which affects digestion, heart rate, blood pressure, and bladder control. Proximal neuropathy primarily impacts the hips, thighs, and buttocks which results in pain and weakness in those regions. Finally, focal neuropathy involves damage to a specific nerve, which causes sudden and severe symptoms in a specific area.

The management of diabetic neuropathy involves a combination approach of alleviating symptoms and slowing down progression of nerve damage. A pillar of treatment is to control blood sugar levels. This can be achieved with lifestyle modifications to eat a healthier diet, exercise regularly, as well as medical management with medicines to decrease blood sugars. Additional lifestyle changes include quitting smoking and limiting alcohol intake, which can also contribute to better nerve health.

Prevention of diabetic neuropathy largely revolves around controlling your diabetes and lowering blood sugar. Maintaining stable blood sugar levels with regular monitoring, taking your diabetic medications as prescribed, and healthy lifestyle changes can significantly reduce risk of nerve damage. Consistent foot care is essential as individuals with diabetic neuropathy are more prone to foot ulcers and infections. Wearing comfortable shoes, keeping feet clean and moisturized, and regular check ups can help prevent complications. Regular medical check-ups are crucial for early detection and intervention as diabetic foot ulcers are a common cause of amputations. Screening for neuropathy should be an integral part of diabetes management, especially in patients with long standing diabetes. It is important to report any symptoms, even if mild, to your doctor as addressing symptoms early can prevent further worsening of symptoms.

In conclusion, diabetic neuropathy is a serious complication of diabetes that results from prolonged high blood sugar levels. It can have serious impact on a persons life due to its diverse range of symptoms. Effective management and prevention strategies are based on controlling blood sugar levels, adopting a healthy lifestyle, and adhering to medical advise. By understanding the causes, treatment options, and prevention measures associated with diabetic neuropathy, individuals with diabetes can take proactive steps to decrease the effects and lead healthier lives.