Roughly half of all people who live with diabetes develop nerve damage at some point. When this happens, the damage happens to peripheral nerves – nerves responsible for reporting information and physical sensations to your central nervous system (your spinal cord and brain). Diabetic neuropathy can result in faulty messages being passed along—burning sensations or pain for no apparent cause—or, even worse, no communication at all.
The problem is caused by elevated levels of sugar in the bloodstream, which also contributes to impaired immune function and restricted blood flow. Combined with these other issues, nerve damage can allow tiny problems to become serious medical complications, including Charcot foot and diabetic foot ulcers.
Charcot foot is a condition wherein the foot starts to deteriorate, in part due to nerve damage. The starting point for this serious medical complication is actually restricted blood flow—peripheral arterial disease (PAD)—that can be attributed to diabetes. PAD deprives body tissues of essential nutrients. This can leave a diabetic individual with weakened bones that are brittle and break easily. Neuropathy plays a role when the person is unable to feel pain from bones breaking. Without realizing anything is wrong, he or she will continue walking on the foot as usual. In turn, this compounds the damage and the affected foot ends up swollen, unstable, and quite deformed.
Diabetic neuropathy also increases the risk of foot ulcers – a leading cause of lower limb amputations. This happens because the condition makes it more likely for sores, cuts, and various other wounds to go unnoticed and untreated. Left unaddressed, wounds continue to break down and become ulcers. These open wounds enable contaminants to enter the body, causing infections that can spread into nearby bones and tissue.
Given the body’s inability to fight off infection—the immune system is compromised by the heightened glucose levels—it continues to increase in severity, ultimately becoming gangrenous (tissue death). Since gangrene cannot be treated and will continue to spread, amputation often becomes necessary.
Preventing Diabetic Nerve Damage
When it comes to diabetic neuropathy, treatment is mainly focused on three related areas – relieving pain, managing complications, and slowing the disease’s progression. A better strategy than to have the problem treated is to prevent it from happening in the first place. To that end, you need to take actions like controlling blood sugar levels, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising on a regular basis to manage your diabetes and lower your risk of nerve damage.
In the event you already have diabetic nerve damage and want professional treatment—or want to create a diabetic foot care plan to protect your lower limbs and keep you safe—enlist the help of our professionals here at Fixing Feet Institute. We can assist you with all facets of foot care, so contact our Surprise, AZ office today online or call (623) 584-5556 or request an appointment.