Diabetes is the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy, a condition that can cause numbness, tingling, pain or a loss of sensation in the feet and eventually spread to the hands and legs. It results from nerve damage caused by longstanding high blood sugar.
If you notice unusual sensations in your hands or feet, seek medical care immediately. Without help, more extensive nerve damage and decreased circulation can occur, which may lead to ulcers, gangrene and amputation.
Your healthcare provider will work with you to make sure your blood sugar levels are as close to normal as possible, which helps protect nerves. He or she can also prescribe medication to ease nerve pain. However, many medications have side effects when taken long term, so your provider may recommend nondrug therapies. These therapies include biofeedback, acupuncture, hypnosis, relaxation techniques and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which can block pain signals.
In addition to measures your provider recommends, do your part to manage your peripheral neuropathy symptoms:
- Be kind to your feet. Check them daily for blisters, cuts or calluses. Avoid tight shoes and socks, which can worsen pain and cause sores that don’t heal. Have your healthcare provider cut your toenails.
- Exercise regularly. Working out can reduce pain and keep blood sugar levels in check. Ask your healthcare provider about routines appropriate for you.
- Stop smoking. It can adversely affect circulation, putting you at greater risk for foot problems—including amputation.
- Eat healthfully. That means lean meats like skinless chicken and extra-lean ground beef and low-fat dairy products like skim milk and fat-free yogurt, along with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Avoid pressure. Don’t cross your knees or lean on your elbows for extended periods of time.