Diabetic Neuropathy

People who have had diabetes for a long time sometimes develop damage to the nerves linking the spinal cord and brain to the body. This condition, called diabetic neuropathy, can upset the normal flow of some nerve impulses through the legs, arms and other parts of the body. The patient may lose the ability to feel pain, which is one way the body protects itself against injury. The damage can also affect how organs and body systems work, especially the heart, bladder, digestive system and sex organs.

About 60% of people with diabetes have some evidence of nerve damage. Half to two-thirds of them have nerve damage that causes symptoms, which can lead to disability without treatment. Severe cases in which an infection or poor blood flow is present may require the surgical removal of a limb, most often a foot.

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Symptoms

The symptoms of diabetic neuropathy vary, depending on the individual and the nerves and parts of the body that are affected. Numbness or injuries that result because the person cannot feel pain are common signs of this condition.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause is not known, but blood sugar level seems to have the greatest effect. The higher the blood sugar level, the greater the risk for developing neuropathy. Nerve damage also increases the longer a person has diabetes. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption may also increase the risk.

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Diagnosis

Diagnosis of this condition is based on the patient's medical history and a physical examination.

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Treatments

There is no known cure for diabetic neuropathy, so prevention is the best approach. Keeping the blood sugar level within a safe range at all times is key. Bringing blood sugar levels under control can help slow the progress of the condition once it begins. Many treatments are available to ease the symptoms once diabetic neuropathy has occurred.

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