When most people think of diabetes, they think of blood sugar checks, insulin shots, and careful management of diet. They might also think of the occasional low-sugar events that some diabetics experience, or about the difficulty with vision they may have. Some are also aware of the kidney failure and subsequent dialysis that severe diabetics encounter.
What they might not think about is the impact of diabetes beyond the nutritional requirements. High blood sugar levels can cause negative impacts on many body systems, including the nervous system.
Over time, high blood sugar can damage nerves in the body, particularly those in the hands and feet. This condition is called diabetic neuropathy. Over time, it can be devastating. Diabetics who lose toes, feet, and legs have experienced severe neuropathy that has led to numbness in those areas.
When that happens, the person can experience frequent injuries or wounds to those areas without any sensation of pain, and the subsequent infections and damage can require amputation.
So diabetic neuropathy can be a devastating side effect of diabetes. If you think you may have this condition, you should know that the process of managing it takes several steps.
The most important is proper diagnosis. Tingling, numbness, and other similar sensations can be caused by many other situations than just diabetic neuropathy. A diabetic who is experiencing these symptoms should go to the doctor and get checked out.
The physician will do a physical exam first, then probably order use an EMG machine to test for neuropathy. This device measures the responsiveness of nerves in different parts of the body to determine if there is any deficiency.
The complete process will give the doctor a good basis for determining if the patient is experiencing diabetic neuropathy or if the symptoms have been caused by other conditions, such as pinched nerves or circulatory issues.
Once a positive diagnosis has been made, it’s time to fight back. Good circulation and flexibility are key. An exercise program can do a lot to help slow the progress of diabetic neuropathy, but it’s critically important that you only take on an exercise plan that has been approved by your doctor. Doing otherwise could cause it to backfire.
The program should not be so demanding that it causes difficulty in your glucose maintenance, for example, and you should be very careful to use appropriate footwear and monitor for signs of blisters or callouses that could trigger further damage.
The ironic side of neuropathy is that it can cause both numbness and pain, so you should consult with your doctor about an appropriate regimen of pain relievers to ease this effect.
And if you haven’t already, you should definitely stop smoking. The effects of smoking on the heart and lungs get a great deal of attention, but diabetics should also be aware of the problems it can cause with their circulation–still another ingredient in the recipe for diabetic neuropathy.
When you have a condition like diabetes that’s so closely tied to nutrition, it’s no surprise that managing its side effects will require a proper diet. Diabetic neuropathy, while not reversible, can get worse. So the more you do to manage your sugar in the early stages of the condition, the less impact it will have.
Eat a balanced diet with measured carbohydrate intake and appropriate portion sizes. Eat complex carbohydrates that break down more slowly, so that you have a steady flow of energy through the day instead of surges in your sugar levels. Eat frequently throughout the day to regulate sugar levels. In short, do the things you’ve always known are best for a diabetic’s daily eating habits.
Diabetic neuropathy can be one of the most devastating side effects of diabetes, but it can be slowed and managed if a patient gets a proper diagnosis and follows up with proper treatment.