NYACK, N.Y. -- Diabetic nerve damage, or neuropathy, is a common and serious complication of diabetes, most often affecting the feet. However, the side effect isn't a necessary burden, and can often be prevented or slowed through the control of blood sugar.
“Diabetic neuropathy is most common in people who have had diabetes for 15 to 20 years, or those with poorly controlled diabetes,” said Dr. Mohini Gurme, a neurologist at Rockland Neurological Associates in West Nyack.
Diabetic neuropathy most often damages nerves in the legs and feet. A person with nerve damage may feel numbness, tingling or pain. Other symptoms include a reduced ability to feel pain or temperature change, increased sensitivity to touch, loss of reflexes, balance and coordination or serious foot problems.
To diagnose diabetic neuropathy, doctors can use several tests. These include nerve conduction studies, which measure how quickly the nerves in the arms and legs conduct electrical signals, and electromyography (EMG), which measures the electrical discharges produced in the muscles.
The most important way to prevent diabetic neuropathy is to keep blood sugar within the target range recommended by a doctor.
There are also several drugs used to treat nerve pain symptoms, many of which can cause drowsiness. “You shouldn’t take these medications along with other sedatives,” said Gurme. “A person doesn’t necessarily have to take these drugs permanently, as diabetic nerve pain can fluctuate.”
Patients with diabetic nerve pain should also take regular walks. “Some people with diabetic nerve pain don’t want to walk, because they have trouble with their balance and pain in their feet,” said Gurme. “Walking helps improve balance, and some people can benefit from physical therapy to strengthen muscles.”
Gurme also advises people with diabetic nerve pain to wear shoes with a wide base. “I also tell my patients to see a podiatrist, who will help them keep their nails short to reduce their risk of infection or sores,” she said.
Those with neuropathy should see their doctor every three to six months. “If your balance worsens, your pain increases despite medication, or you have cuts or sores on your feet that are not healing, see your doctor right away,” said Gurme.
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