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Author: John McIntosh
Source: Healthy Living, October-December 2005

The Surprising Link Between Diabetes And Nerve Damage

One of the most common long-term repercussions of high blood glucose levels is diabetic neuropathy, or nerve damage. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about two-thirds of those with diabetes have some form of this complication.

The Symptoms

Neuropathy may not produce any obvious symptoms in its beginning stages, but eventually most people find that they experience numbness, tingling or pain in their feet. Other symptoms include:

  • Numbness in the legs, hands, arms and fingers, and a weakening of the muscles of the feet or hands
  • Indigestion, nausea or vomiting and/or diarrhea or constipation
  • Dizziness or faintness due to a drop in blood pressure
  • Sexual dysfunction and/or problems urinating

These symptoms arise when high blood sugar causes damage to nerve converings and to blood vessels that bring essential oxygen to the nerves. The damage may make nerves send messages too slowly or at the wrong times, or it may prevent them from transmitting anything. As neuropathy becomes more severe, it may cause chronic pain, loss of motion and injuries that can lead to amputation.

Though the challenges of nerve damage may seem daunting, progress is being made every day.

The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial, a major NIH study, found that people who kept their blood glucose levels close to normal could lower their risk of nerve damage by as much as 60 percent.

5 Ways To Help

1. Keep blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible.
2. Limit alcohol intake.
3. Take good care of your feet and have your doctor check them regularly.
4. Tell your doctor about problems you have with your feet, legs, stomach, bowels or bladder.
5. Tell your doctor if you are experiencing sexual dysfunction, cannot tell when your blood sugar is to low or feel dizzy when going from lying down to sitting or standing up.

“Though we can’t always prevent neuropathy, we can reduce the risk”, says Strelitz Diabetes Institutes’ Dr. Vinik. “People with diabetes and their doctors need to work together to use the most effective ways to control blood sugar”.