Diabetic peripheral polyneuropathy is the most common type of damage of the nerves due to diabetes and is, unfortunately, a very common complication of diabetes. Up to 50 percent of people with diabetes will develop this condition within 10 years of their diabetes diagnosis.
A progressive disorder, diabetic peripheral polyneuropathy affects the peripheral nerves. It has a fairly typical pattern of affecting the longest nerve, which travels from the spinal cord to the big toe, first. Neuropathy causes nerves to die off from the furthest point from the core of the body.
It progresses proximally and affects both sides of the body equally. It starts in the toes, then up the legs. By the time it reaches the ankle to mid-shin, it usually starts affecting the fingers and hands.
What Causes Diabetic Peripheral Polyneuropathy?
The primary cause is uncontrolled high blood sugars, as seen with uncontrolled diabetes. High blood sugars can be toxic to the body leading to various complications including diseases that affect the nerves.
Other causes include high cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking.
What Are the Signs of Diabetic Peripheral Polyneuropathy?
The first signs of this neuropathy are a numbness or tingling, which many say feels like insects crawling on the skin. Over time, the tingling sensation may progress to a sharp shooting pain, a burning pain or achiness not associated with the muscles. Diabetic peripheral polyneuropathy may cause foot, joint and bone issues leading to callouses, ulcers, infections and amputations.
Even without joint or bone damage, those with impaired sensation resulting from neuropathy should exercise care because they may not feel foot injuries. It is essential to perform a thorough, daily foot inspection covering the bottoms of the feet, toes and toenails. If any cuts, scrapes or wounds are detected, see your doctor.
Can Diabetic Peripheral Polyneuropathy Be Reversed?
Nothing can make neuropathy disappear once it starts; the goal is set at preventing the painful symptoms and halting the progression. Patients may be prescribed medicines, such as anti-depressants or anti-seizure medications, to relieve pain. Some topical preparations may also be helpful.
Can You Prevent Diabetic Peripheral Polyneuropathy?
Because there is no cure, our emphasis is on prevention.
The best course of action to take against it is prevention and to perform thorough foot examinations every day. You can help prevent or delay diabetic neuropathy and its complications by keeping your blood sugar consistently well-controlled, taking good care of your feet and following a healthy lifestyle.
By Scott Goodwin, MD
Franciscan Physician Network, Endocrinology/Diabetes and Metabolism