More than 37 million Americans have diabetes, which places them at far greater risk for nerve damage, or peripheral neuropathy. To define greater risk, consider this next statistic: Between a third and half of people with diabetes develop peripheral neuropathy.
Our team here at Pain Medicine Consultants understands this heightened risk, which is why we offer comprehensive diabetic neuropathy services.
While it’s all well and good to state that you’re more susceptible to nerve damage because of diabetes, we feel it’s important to understand the exact nature of the connection.
The direct link between diabetes and nerve damage
To properly explain the link between diabetes and peripheral neuropathy, we need to go back to basics.
When you have Type 2 diabetes, your body has trouble regulating the levels of sugar in your blood. Under normal circumstances, your pancreas produces a hormone called insulin, which delivers sugar to your cells, which, in turn, convert it into energy.
When you have diabetes, your body doesn’t produce enough insulin, your cells have developed insulin resistance, or both. The end result is that you have higher-than-normal levels of sugar in your bloodstream.
This high sugar content in your blood can damage small blood vessels, such as those that supply your nerves with oxygen and nutrients. When this happens, your nerves become damaged and start to disintegrate.
The reason peripheral neuropathy tends to develop in your extremities — namely your legs, feet, arms, and hands — is because the blood vessels in these areas are farthest from your heart.
Why neuropathy is problematic
In its early stages, peripheral neuropathy can lead to numbness, tingling, and pain as the nerve fibers are damaged and the signaling malfunctions.
When numbness sets in, it means that the nerves are gone. This numbness leaves you at risk for infections that don’t heal and, worse, amputation.
While we don’t want to scare you unnecessarily, we want you to understand the seriousness of this condition. Every day, 230 Americans undergo an amputation due to diabetes and peripheral neuropathy.
The reason we bring these numbers up is to underscore the importance of coming to see us at the very first signs of a problem in your nerves when you have diabetes. With early intervention, we can slow peripheral neuropathy considerably and avoid life-changing complications like amputation.
Better still, we urge you to work with your primary care physician to manage your blood sugar levels so that you don’t develop peripheral neuropathy in the first place.
If you’d like more information about your risks for peripheral neuropathy or you suspect that the condition may have already started, please contact one of our offices in Pleasanton, Pleasant Hill, or Corte Madera, California, to schedule an appointment.