Neuropathy symptoms generally begin with a small tingle in the fingers or toes. This lack of sensation eventually works its way to the hands and feet, causing a burning sensation, leaving you in a lot of pain.
When you were a child, did you ever create a telephone by tying two paper cups to a string? You held a cup at your end and your friend held her cup at the other. As the string was pulled taut you would whisper your secret message into the cup and your words would magically travel to the other end. If the line was relaxed or cut you could continue to talk but your message would never reach its destination. Like the string on your imaginary phone, your nerves communicate messages back and forth from your brain to the other areas of your body. If any nerves are damaged by exposure to high blood sugar levels for a sustained period of time, typically many months or even years, the signal sent by your brain will either be weakened or interrupted all together.
Diabetic neuropathies are a family of nerve disorders which are caused by diabetes. People suffering from diabetes can, through time, develop nerve damage throughout their body. In fact, statistics show that approximately 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy. Some people who have nerve damage may exhibit no symptoms however others may have neuropathy symptoms such as pain, tingling, or numbness—loss of feeling—in the hands, arms, feet, and legs. Nerve problems can occur in every organ system, including the digestive tract, heart, and sex organs.
While people who have diabetes can develop nerve problems at any time the risk increases with age and longer duration of diabetes. Studies show that the highest rates of neuropathy are among people who have had diabetes for at least 25 years. Diabetic neuropathies also appear to be much more common for those who have difficulties controlling their blood sugar, as well as those with high levels of blood fat and blood pressure and those who are overweight.
People with diabetes can lower their risk for neuropathy by keeping their blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels close to the target numbers their health care provider recommends. Being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight and nutritional supplementation can also help prevent the long-term complications of diabetes. For those who smoke, quitting will lower the risk of developing neuropathies as well as lower the risk for other health problems related to diabetes, including heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.