Living with diabetes blog

Diabetic neuropathy can be painful complication

By Nancy Klobassa Davidson, R.N. and Peggy Moreland, R.N. June 19, 2010

In the next few weeks, I'd like to focus on diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy is the most common serious complication of diabetes. Many people with diabetes eventually develop some form of nerve damage, a condition known as diabetic neuropathy.

Depending on the affected nerves, symptoms of diabetic neuropathy can range from pain and numbness in your extremities to problems with your digestive system, urinary tract, blood vessels and heart. For some people, these symptoms are mild; for others, diabetic neuropathy can be painful, disabling, and even fatal.

What causes neuropathy? The human body has a complex system of nerves running through it. These nerves connect your brain/spinal cord to nerves in muscles, skin, and other organs in your body. Through these nerves your brain senses sensations, such as pain and temperature. Also, these nerves control muscles, and other autonomic functions such as regulating the heart, digestion, bladder, sweating mechanism and blood pressure.

How does high blood sugar factor into this neuropathy? Prolonged exposure to high blood sugar (glucose) can damage delicate nerve fibers. High blood sugar interferes with the ability of nerves to transmit signals and also weakens the wall of small blood vessels that supply the nerves with oxygen and nutrients. Other factors that may contribute to diabetic neuropathy include: the immune system, genetic factors, smoking and alcohol abuse.

Blood sugar control is the key to preventing or slowing the development of diabetic neuropathy.

Next week I'll discuss peripheral neuropathy. This neuropathy damages nerves in feet, legs, arms and hands. A patient once told me that his feet hurt so much at night from the neuropathy pain, he would walk barefoot on the cold garage floor looking for relief. I'm not recommending this, but it's an example of how desperate people can get.

Please share your experiences with diabetic neuropathy.

Regards and have a great week,


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June 19, 2010