Diabetic neuropathy is a common result of long-term diabetes. The condition damages the nerves connecting the spinal cord and brain to the body. Nerve problems can occur throughout the body and in every organ system, including the digestive tract, heart, and sex organs. Some patients have no symptoms, however other patients may either lose the ability to feel pain or experience tingling, numbness, and loss of feeling in the hands, arms, feet, and legs.
About 60% of people with diabetes have some evidence of nerve damage, and 30 to 40% have nerve damage that causes symptoms. The condition can cause the patient to become disabled if it is not treated. Amputation (most often of a foot) may become necessary in severe cases when infection or poor blood flow is also present.
The exact cause of diabetic neuropathy is not known, but blood sugar level seems to have the greatest effect on neuropathy. The higher a person's blood sugar level, the greater the risk for developing neuropathy. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption may also increase the risk.
There is no known cure for diabetic neuropathy. Treatment focuses on preventing the development and slowing the course of the disease. No treatment other than strict control of blood sugar has been proven to have an effect on the progression of diabetic neuropathy, but other treatments are available to help ease symptoms.
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