Damage to nerves and blood vessels
Prolonged exposure to high blood sugar can damage delicate nerve fibers, causing diabetic neuropathy. Why this happens isn't completely clear, but a combination of factors likely plays a role, including the complex interaction between nerves and blood vessels.
High blood sugar interferes with the ability of the nerves to transmit signals. It also weakens the walls of the small blood vessels (capillaries) that supply the nerves with oxygen and nutrients.
Other factors that may contribute to diabetic neuropathy include:
Feb. 24, 2015
- Inflammation in the nerves caused by an autoimmune response. This occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks part of your body as if it were a foreign organism.
- Genetic factors unrelated to diabetes that make some people more susceptible to nerve damage.
- Smoking and alcohol abuse, which damage both nerves and blood vessels and significantly increase the risk of infections.
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- Neuropathy (nerve damage). The American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/neuropathy/. Accessed Dec. 17, 2014.
- Steps to prevent or delay nerve damage. The American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/neuropathy/steps-to-prevent-or-delay.html. Accessed Dec. 17, 2014.
- Kidney disease (neuropathy). American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/kidney-disease-nephropathy.html. Accessed Dec. 17, 2014.
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- Feldman EL, et al. Treatment of diabetic neuropathy. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Dec. 17, 2014.
- Feldman EL, et al. Patient information: Diabetic neuropathy (beyond the basics). http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Dec. 22, 2014.
- High blood pressure (hypertension). The American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/high-blood-pressure-hypertension.html. Accessed Dec. 22, 2014.
- Checking your blood glucose. The American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/checking-your-blood-glucose.html. Accessed Dec. 23, 2014.
- Castro MR (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Dec. 3, 2014.