Peripheral neuropathy is a disease that is most often seen in conjunction with diabetes. Remember in the first post of this series we talked about how uncontrolled diabetes means that the glucose generated by your body from carbohydrates cannot be absorbed due to the lack of insulin? When glucose is not paired with insulin, it flows through the body. During that process, it damages the blood vessels and walls of the blood vessels. This damage can reduce the flow of oxygen to the nerves. Since small vessels are affected first, the vessels in your feet are generally one of the first affected. (Along with your eyes, which is why you also need to see the eye doctor at least every year.)
Generally with peripheral neuropathy, the symptoms will start in the toes and move up the foot.
Common Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy
• Burning or pain
• Tingling or a feeling of “pins and needles”
• Feeling like you are wearing a sock when you aren’t.
What should I do if I think I have a problem?
If you are concerned, it is time to see your friendly local podiatrist. If your diabetes is under control, you should be seeing your friendly local podiatrist at least once or twice a year to have your feet and legs checked. If you have not seen your doctor lately then you should go in and have a Comprehensive Diabetic Foot Exam (CDFE). This is a non-invasive examination of the feet and legs. The exam evaluates the condition of the skin and checks the circulation of the leg and foot. It also looks for neurological changes in the sensations of the foot. The following is a video of a diabetic foot examination.
Will the doctor cure the problem?
No. There is not a cure. There are medicines that can help if you are experiencing nerve pain. The important thing is to try and get your diabetes under control.
Will having peripheral neuropathy affect my life?
Yes, it will. You need to be very careful if you have peripheral neuropathy. Not being able to feel your foot or feet means that you could develop sores and not feel them. For example, you could slightly cut your toe when trimming your toe nails. That cut could get infected and quickly lead to a major problem because you can’t feel the pain from the cut or infection. When you have diabetes, any sores that you have will not heal as quickly as they might in a person without diabetes. So if you have a sore, it will not heal as quickly which also leaves you open to infection.
Also, you should check the inside of your shoes before you put them on. Make sure that nothing has fallen inside your shoes because you may not be able to feel it if there is something there. For example, let’s say a screw fell in your shoe. (I can’t be the only person who occasionally finds random screws and has no idea where they came from.) You could walk around with that screw in your shoe and not know it is there. Walking around on a screw can really tear up the bottom of your foot – the exact place you are trying to keep in good shape.
How can I prevent getting peripheral neuropathy?
Managing your diabetes will be a major element in preventing peripheral neuropathy. You also need to do daily foot checks. A daily foot check takes under a minute and should become part of your morning routine. (Actually, I would love it if you did it twice a day but I will settle for once a day.) You can sit on the side of your bed with a hand mirror and look at your feet. Look to make sure that there are not any spots or sores. Look to make sure there aren’t any corns or calluses. (If you have corns or calluses, do not use over the counter acid medications to try and get rid of them. You run the risk of getting an infection from not feeling the medication and having it burn the skin.) Check to see that your skin is not too dry and that it is not cracking. Check your toe nails to see if they are healthy or if they are thick or yellow. If you see any changes, it is time to head in to your friendly local podiatrist to have your feet checked. Also, this is an ideal time to moisturize your feet. Dry skin on your feet can easily lead to cracks where bacteria can enter into your foot. You want to keep the skin on your feet moisturized and soft.
In summary, peripheral neuropathy is a disease that affects many people with diabetes. If your diabetes is under control, you have a better chance of avoiding this irreversible condition. Daily foot checks can also help you maintain good foot health. If you see changes in your feet, it is time to go to your friendly local podiatrist and get your feet checked. When you have diabetes, most over the counter solutions are not for you – you need to be very careful with your feet.