Neuropathy: When Good Nerves Go Bad
Do your arms or legs often feel numb or weak? You could be one of the more than 20 million Americans who have neuropathy, a disorder of the peripheral nervous system.
These nerves transmit signals from the spinal cord and brain to the hands, feet, joints, skin, and internal organs. Neuropathy has a variety of causes, but about 30 percent are related to diabetes.
What to Watch For
Neuropathy develops gradually in some people and suddenly in others. Symptoms can include:
- Arm and leg weakness.
- Numbness, tingling, or aches.
- Organ problems.
- Damage to specific nerves in the head.
- Erectile dysfunction, bladder problems, or excessive perspiration.
People with diabetes who have uncontrolled blood sugar have a higher risk for neuropathy. The condition affects around 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes.
You can’t always avoid diabetic neuropathy. However, working with your doctor to control your blood sugar, taking insulin and other medications as prescribed, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight may help you prevent it.
Diagnosis and Treatment
While some forms of neuropathy can be cured, many cannot. Even so, depending on the underlying cause, symptoms can often be relieved. As a result, patients’ quality of life may improve. Seeking medical attention early is one key to effective treatment.
The condition is usually diagnosed via a complete medical history and physical exam by a doctor. The physician may also ask for blood tests or exams that gauge your nerve function.
The cause will be treated and, in some cases, surgery may be used to stop further nerve damage. Braces and splints may be prescribed to improve mobility.
Self-Care Can Make a Difference
These recommendations can help you take care of yourself if you have neuropathy:
- Be careful when using knives, scissors, and other sharp objects.
- Walk slowly and use a cane to steady your gait.
- Wear shoes to protect your feet from injury.
- Check hot water temperature with a thermometer before showering or bathing.
- Take part in a gentle exercise or physical therapy program. Make sure the program’s leader is knowledgeable about neuropathy.
- See if acupuncture or massage provides pain relief or helps restore nerve function.
- Don’t overschedule yourself. Be sure to get enough rest.
Since many conditions can cause neuropathy, seeking an accurate diagnosis is important. Doing so as soon as symptoms arise is crucial.
Good diabetes management plays a critical role in your future health. Talk to your Rite Aid pharmacist about your diabetes management plan.
“About Peripheral Neuropathy: Facts.” The Neuropathy Association, www.neuropathy.org/site/PageServer?pagename=About_Facts .
“About Peripheral Neuropathy: Symptoms and Signs.” The Neuropathy Association, 2012. www.neuropathy.org/site/PageServer?pagename=About_Symptoms .
“Diabetic Neuropathies: The Nerve Damage of Diabetes.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/neuropathies/.
“Diabetic Neuropathy.” American Academy of Family Physicians, familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/diabetic-neuropathy.printerview.all.html.
“Neuropathy.” BreastCancer.org, www.breastcancer.org/treatment/side_effects/neuropathy.jsp.
“Neuropathy (Nerve Damage).” American Diabetes Association, www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/neuropathy.
Peripheral Neuropathy. American Diabetes Association, www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/neuropathy/peripheral-neuropathy.html.