The most common complication of diabetes is Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy, or DPN. DPN causes numbness, loss of sensation, or occasionally pain in various parts of the body due to nerve damage. It is often most pronounced in the extremities: hands, legs, and feet. DPN is most severe in untreated, unmanaged diabetes. Although, you can lower your risk of developing the condition through careful monitoring and management of your blood sugar levels. DPN eventually affects up to 60% to 70% of all diabetics.
If you are diagnosed with DPN, you will need to pay careful attention to the condition of your hands, legs, and feet. Because you may have trouble feeling the heat, cold, or other injuries in those areas, you may be afflicted with things like burns, frostbite, and cuts without even noticing the problem. Even significant injuries can sometimes go unnoticed by those with DPN. Any injury, small or large, which goes untreated carries the risk of growing significantly worse over time. Open wounds on the foot that are left untreated can grow into ulcers that will be even more difficult to heal than normal because of the poor blood flow caused by diabetes. Such wounds, if left to grow too severe, can be potentially life threatening and even require amputation.
Of particular importance for those who deal with DPN is good footwear. Shoes must be properly and carefully fitted to avoid causing bunions, corns, blisters, bone spurs, or other foot conditions that develop slowly over time, as the wearer will not be able to rely on discomfort or pain to warn them that their shoes are causing problems.
Early symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy include:
- Extremities that are overly sensitive to touch (this can be an early indication of the onset of loss of sensation)
- Tingling or numbness in the affected area
- Muscle weakness (caused by the same nerve damage that leads to DPN). This can be noticed as difficulty walking, standing up from chairs, or grabbing or carrying things with your hands
- Balance problems when walking, standing, or standing up (this is a side effect of your body’s efforts to adapt to the nerve damage and muscle weakness)
Because these symptoms are often perceived as common effects of aging, they often go undiagnosed and untreated. Do not ignore such symptoms if you experience them; give your doctor a call to ensure that you know what the problem is and that it is being properly managed.