Diabetes is a serious medical condition, and a growing problem for the U.S. population. Over 30 million people are diabetic – including 7.2 million who are undiagnosed – and another 84 million are considered pre-diabetic.
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with this condition, you probably already know that diabetes can cause blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, and strokes. But did you know that diabetes can also put your lower limbs at serious risk for medical emergencies, too?
Now, you may think that your feet are the least of your concerns when it comes to dealing with diabetes. Many diabetic patients make this mistake. But the truth is, if you want to avoid being robbed of your mobility, developing painful ulcers, and even needing amputation, then caring for your feet should be top priority on your to-do list.
Before we look at what problems can develop specifically in the feet, though, we should discuss how the condition affects internal systems – particularly the nervous, circulatory, and immune systems – so you can see why they develop in the first place.
Here we go …
Understanding How Diabetes Affects Feet
Your nervous system has two components – the central and peripheral nervous systems. The central nervous system is formed by your brain and spinal column, while the peripheral nervous system is a vast network of peripheral nerves throughout the body. These nerves are responsible for transmitting signals to and from the central nervous system.
“So what does that have to do with diabetes,” you may ask.
Well, simply put, elevated blood sugar levels damage nerves. This can interfere with, and even completely disrupt, peripheral nerves’ ability to communicate with your brain and spinal column (a condition known as peripheral neuropathy). As a result, you may experience burning or tingling sensations in your lower limbs. Let the problem go untreated long enough and you will eventually lose all feeling in those areas.
More than 50 percent of all diabetic individuals develop neuropathy from the disease.
But that’s not all!
In addition to nerve damage, the heightened sugar levels may cause blood vessels to become constricted – which affects their ability to transport oxygenated blood to provide nourishment to body tissues – and weaken the immune system. A weakened immune system will leave you more susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections.
Together, the lack of sensation and the inability to heal properly can be catastrophic. After all, if you can’t feel your feet, how are you supposed to know if you have developed a cut or sore? The answer is you won’t! Instead, you will continue to put pressure on those injured areas. And since your immune system is weakened, these injuries will become worse and worse, until the only option for treatment is partial (or even complete) amputation of the foot or lower leg.
Knowing the Signs and Symptoms of Neuropathy
There is good news, however:
By becoming familiar with the early signs of peripheral neuropathy (and practicing diabetic foot care daily), you can prevent these scary outcomes. So keep an eye out for these symptoms:
- Gradual onset of numbness, prickling or tingling in your feet or hands, which can spread upward into your legs and arms
- Sharp, jabbing, throbbing, freezing or burning pain
- Extreme sensitivity to touch
- Lack of coordination and falling
- Muscle weakness or paralysis if motor nerves are affected
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important that you come visit our office right away. The earlier you address the problem, the easier it will be to stop its progression and even reverse it.
Dr. Harvey Danciger has extensive knowledge and experience in nerve damage, and will do everything he can to get your feet back on track.
Treating and Preventing Neuropathy
In most cases, the goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms and manage the condition that causes the neuropathy. With regard to relieving symptoms, medication and various therapies may be prescribed. Therapies may entail laser treatment, corticosteroid injections, physical therapy, or custom orthotics to improve movement.
In some cases, surgery may be necessary. These surgeries are especially effective when the root cause of the problem is a compressed nerve. In a case like this, Dr. Danciger can relieve the pressure on the affected nerve, which then may restore normal nerve function.
Your best course of action, however, will always be to prevent the problem from developing in the first place. This usually entails making healthy lifestyle choices and managing underlying conditions. Lifestyle choices provide benefit by keeping nerves strong and healthy. These choices include:
- Eating a proper diet. Strong, healthy nerves need proper nutrition. This is provided by foods like whole grains, lean protein, vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy products. Vitamin B-12 is particularly beneficial and found in dairy products, eggs, fish, lean meats, and fortified cereals (preferably those that are low in sugar).
- Avoiding various risk factors. Cramped positions for extended periods of time, repetitive motions, excessive alcohol intake, smoking, and exposure to toxic chemicals should be avoided.
- Exercising regularly. There are countless benefits to working out on a regular basis, including reducing the risk of neuropathy. Check with our office and your primary care physician before beginning an exercise program, but make sure you get 30-60 minutes of physical activity at least three times per week.
Don’t Wait to Get the Help You Need
Finally, we want to emphasize the importance of early treatment. If you are living with diabetes and are experiencing concerning symptoms in your lower limbs, it’s imperative that you act quickly.
Peripheral neuropathy puts your feet at risk for serious medical conditions, but you can count on us to provide the care you need. In addition to expert treatment, we also offer tips and advice to keep you safe, especially if you require assistance with diabetic foot care.
All you have to do is call our Palm Desert office at (760) 568-0108 for additional information or to schedule an appointment today. You can also fill out our online request form to have a member of our staff reach out to you.