A severe case of peripheral neuropathy can be both devastating and debilitating.
When symptoms reach their worst, the pain can be so constant and intense that it keeps you up at night. You may be left unable to work, drive, or enjoy your favorite activities. Not even a daily mix of powerful pain relievers can fully soothe the discomfort.
As the disease progresses even further, your nerves become so damaged that your feet go completely numb. And while you might be grateful for some symptom relief, this is actually the worst outcome of all—because you’re now much more prone to life-threatening wounds, infections, and injuries.
Want to avoid this fate? If you have diabetes, you need to be thinking about preventing neuropathy now, even if you aren’t currently experiencing any problems.
The Warning Signs Are Easy to Miss—if You Aren’t Looking For Them
Neuropathy is a very slow-moving, insidious disease. You may have it for years without really noticing more than an occasional tingle, or intermittent cramping that is easily explained away.
The problem is that, if you don’t take the right steps to stop it during this early stage, it will progress to the more painful version. And the more damage your nerves have sustained, the harder it will be to relieve the pain and restore healthy function.
For this reason, our Arizona podiatrist says, detecting the early warning signs is paramount to ensuring long-term health outcomes.
What Are the Early Warning Signs?
Unfortunately, not all cases of peripheral neuropathy are symptomatic in the early stages. This can make early detection even more difficult.
That said, be on the lookout for any of the following symptoms, especially if you have any of the common risk factors for neuropathy (which we’ll talk about in the next section):
- Tingling in the feet. Most people recognize the feeling of their foot being “asleep,” usually after sitting cross-legged or otherwise putting pressure on a limb. However, if you notice tingling or sensation loss is more frequent, more severe, or doesn’t go away after you change positions, it may be a sign of systemic nerve damage.
- Other unexplained sensations or pain. In addition to (or instead of) pricking or “pins and needles” sensations, you might notice symptoms like burning sensations, sudden “electric shock” pain, itchiness, hypersensitivity to touch or temperature, or other strange sensory issues that don’t seem to have an obvious external cause.
- Weakness or balance issues. Sensory nerves aren’t the only type of nerves that can be impaired by neuropathy. Motor nerves, which control muscles and movement in the feet and legs, can also be affected. Furthermore, if you’re having trouble feeling your feet make contact with the ground, you may be less likely to remain stable.
- Cuts, ulcers, or injuries that you don’t notice or aren’t getting better. Neuropathy may blunt your ability to feel pain, so you may not notice cuts or injuries until after you’ve been walking on them for a while. Furthermore, because neuropathy is often caused by the same factors that suppress circulation and immune health, those cuts and injuries may be slower to heal and more likely to get infected.
It is possible that, even if you have these symptoms, they may be unrelated to neuropathy. However, it’s always wise to get a full checkup if you suspect a problem—especially if you have any known risk factors for neuropathy.
Peripheral Neuropathy Risk Factors
By far the most common comorbidity with peripheral neuropathy is diabetes. High, uncontrolled blood sugar levels are extremely detrimental to nerve health. It slows circulation, keeps nerves from getting the nutrients they need, and can even physically “choke” or pinch the nerves by inflaming the surrounding tissues.
In fact, the two conditions are so entwined that, according to some estimates, as many as 70% of people with diabetes will eventually develop peripheral neuropathy to some degree—though most individuals do still have a great deal of control in preventing the most severe symptoms.
For this reason, we strongly encourage all our patients with diabetes to have a comprehensive checkup at our office at least once per year.
But diabetes is far from the only risk factor. Others include:
- Certain autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and Sjogren’s syndrome
- Dietary and nutritional deficiencies
- Side effects from various medications (most notably chemotherapy drugs)
- Alcohol abuse
- Viral and bacterial infections
- Exposure to poison or toxins
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Post-surgical complications
It’s important to realize that you may be living with more than one potential risk factor. At your appointment, it will be extremely important for us to establish not only the neuropathy diagnosis itself, but also identify the most likely root causes so our treatments can be as effective as possible.
What Should I Do if I Suspect Neuropathy?
Although it may take months or even years for your neuropathy to progress to a more severe stage, there really is no time to lose. In many cases, chronic nerve damage is not fully reversible.
If you wait until your pain is severe, we can still usually help you manage that discomfort and get some of your life back. In fact, we have one of the most advanced treatment programs anywhere in the country to help reverse symptoms to the greatest extent possible, including laser therapy and electronic signal transfer therapy. But complete restoration is often not possible unless you get out in front of the disease.
At Fixing Feet Institute, we perform extensive neuropathy screenings, which may include blood work, a nerve conduction velocity test, diagnostic imaging, and/or an EMG.
These tools help us detect the early stages of the condition—often before you yourself notice anything—and in many cases can also help us identify likely root causes as well. If you are living with diabetes, it’s essential that you get tested at regular intervals, and learn the benefits of custom orthotics.
And if you do notice any of those early warning signs, you are much better safe than sorry. Don’t gamble with the long-term health of your nerves.