Peripheral neuropathy describes damage to your peripheral nerves, the nerves in your hands & feet. Damage to these nerves interrupts the important sensory information pathway between the limbs and the brain, resulting in changes to what you feel. While nerve damage can affect any part of the body, in the lower limbs the primary cause for neuropathy is diabetes.
What causes neuropathy?
In diabetes, it is the prolonged exposure to high levels of blood sugar that result in nerve damage. It is estimated that almost half of people with diabetes will develop neuropathy. Other causes of neuropathy can include:
Systemic conditions, autoimmune and other diseases
Exposure to toxins
Side-effects of particular medications
Poor nutrition and vitamin deficiency
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy come on gradually and worsen over time. They affect the feet and toes and can include:
Pins and needles
Reduced ability to detect hot and cold sensations
Absence of sensation
Any interference with the ability to feel places the affected person at an increased risk of complications such as infection and ulceration.
How is it treated?
Because damage to the nerves is generally irreversible, it’s all about managing the symptoms, preventing their onset if possible and delaying their progression once they start. With diabetes, this is done by keeping your blood sugar in check and maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle.
It’s also important to take care of the symptoms that neuropathy is having on your feet. If you’re experiencing numbness that is limiting your ability to detect any cuts or wounds, a daily check of your feet will greatly reduce your risk of infection and complications. Other safety measures you can take include:
Checking your feet daily
Wearing shoes outside the house and slippers inside the house
Staying aware of any new or unusual symptoms (to report to your foot specialist and GP)
Wearing good, comfortable shoes
Keeping your feet clean
Being careful when cutting toenails to not accidentally damage the skin
Managing any other conditions that affect sensation, such as callus and dry skin
If you do notice anything abnormal, it’s important that you report it to us at Reflex Foot Care and your GP. We perform annual foot screenings that assess your sensation. This must be done regularly due to the progressive nature of neuropathy, so you stay aware of all of your risks and how to best manage them.
Some medications can assist in reducing the symptoms and exercises may be prescribed to improve function, stability and strength.