Diabetes can cause damage to the nerves that travel to the legs and feet. This is known as diabetic peripheral neuropathy. When these nerves are damaged, the person experiences a loss of feeling in their feet, and other complications can follow. Seeing an experienced podiatrist is an essential step in the management of diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy
Diabetes is the most common reason for developing peripheral neuropathy. There are other causes of this condition as well, including:
- Family history of neuropathy
- Side effect of medications such as ones used for chemotherapy
- Autoimmune disease
- Neurological disorder
- Alcohol abuse
- Use of tobacco products
- Physical injury to the peripheral nerves
- Vitamin deficiency
Peripheral Neuropathy Symptoms
Peripheral neuropathy causes a change of sensation in the legs and feet. This change may be the first sign that there is a problem. Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can happen suddenly or gradually appear over time. They can range from mild to severe. Some of the most common symptoms of neuropathy in the legs and feet are:
- Pins-and-needles feeling
- Shooting pain
- Foot cramps
- Sensitivity to touch
- Reduced ability to feel hot or cold
- Change in the color of the toes
- Difficulty walking or balancing
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to contact your podiatrist for an evaluation.
Common Complications of Diabetic Neuropathy
Serious complications can result from diabetic peripheral neuropathy. In addition to having poor circulation due to diabetes, peripheral neuropathy can prevent you from detecting a problem on the bottom of your feet, such as a wound or ulcer. This can lead to infection if the wound goes unnoticed and untreated. The most severe cases of infection can often lead to amputation. Some complications that can occur due to peripheral neuropathy include:
- Foot ulcers
- Wounds that are slow to heal or do not heal
- Nerve damage
Keeping a close eye on your diabetes and maintaining your blood glucose level is an important step in preventing problems that happen due to diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Other ways to help prevent complications from happening include:
- Managing your blood sugar
- Scheduling regular visits to the podiatrist
- Eating a healthy diet
- Being physically active and exercising regularly
- Doing daily checks of your feet
Diagnosing and Treating Peripheral Neuropathy
An important step to managing peripheral neuropathy is seeing a podiatrist at least once a year. A podiatrist can diagnose the condition by doing the following:
- Exam. A physical exam will be done to check for your level of sensitivity to touch and temperature.
- Filament test. A filament test is done to check for any loss of sensation in the feet. It is done by using a nylon fiber to check various points of the feet and toes for feeling.
- Blood test. A blood test may be ordered to check your glucose levels.
- Health history. A review of your current health and health history will be done to help diagnose the cause of the neuropathy.
Once a diagnosis is made, treatment options can be recommended. Treatment options are often based on the cause of the condition. While there is no cure for peripheral neuropathy, there are treatment options that focus on slowing down or stopping the progression of the condition, decreasing pain, and improving the overall health of your feet.
Some treatments for peripheral neuropathy may include:
- Oral medication. Oral medication can be taken to relieve symptoms such as burning or tingling.
- Topical treatment. A gel or cream with capsaicin can be applied to the feet to help with pain relief.
- Physical therapy. Physical therapy may be needed to help with balance and to increase circulation to the feet.
- Custom orthotics. Custom orthotics can be worn in the shoes to take pressure off and provide support to certain areas of the feet. Orthotics can also be used to keep your feet in a proper position in order to avoid blisters from forming due to shoe rubbing.
- Blood sugar. Closely monitoring blood sugar levels and taking medication as prescribed by your doctor is important for keeping peripheral neuropathy from progressing.
Caring for Your Feet at Home
Doing daily checks of your feet is important when managing peripheral neuropathy. A daily check can help you spot any abnormalities, cuts, blisters, sores, or infections. If you catch these things early, you can prevent serious problems from occurring. A daily inspection should consist of checking for the following:
- Any changes or areas of concern
- Sores that are open or blistered
- Changes in the temperature of your feet
- Red, blue, or pale coloring of your feet
- Ingrown toenails, signs of a toenail fungal infection, or athlete’s foot
- Dry or cracking skin
- Corns, calluses, or other abnormalities
There are basic things you can do at home to care for your feet to keep them healthy, such as:
- Keep your feet clean. Wash them daily using a mild soap and warm, never hot, water.
- Dry your feet thoroughly after a shower or bath. Take extra care to dry between the toes.
- Wear comfortable shoes that fit properly and have plenty of room in the toes.
- Avoid walking barefoot to prevent injury to the bottoms of your feet from happening.
- Always wear diabetic socks or cushioned, seamless socks without an elastic top binding. Avoid any socks with compression that can worsen the nerve damage.
- Moisturize your feet to prevent them from becoming dry or cracked. Do not moisturize between your toes.
When It's Time to Call Your Podiatrist
If you have diabetes and are experiencing symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy, contact Hermiston Family Foot Clinic to make an appointment. Our office can evaluate your condition and create a treatment plan based on your personal needs. To get started, fill out our convenient contact form online or call our Hermiston, Oregon office at 541-567-8750.