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Foot in pain from diabetic neuropathy

The Connection Between Diabetes and Neuropathy

Diabetes, a chronic condition characterized by high blood sugar levels, can lead to a host of complications if not managed properly. One of the most common and debilitating complications is diabetic neuropathy, a type of nerve damage that affects a significant portion of people with diabetes. Understanding the connection between diabetes and neuropathy is essential for preventing and managing this condition effectively.

What is Diabetic Neuropathy?

Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that occurs as a result of diabetes. High blood sugar levels over prolonged periods can injure nerves throughout the body, but diabetic neuropathy most often damages nerves in the legs and feet. This condition can cause a range of symptoms, from mild tingling and numbness to severe pain and disability.

How Does Diabetes Cause Neuropathy?

The exact mechanisms by which diabetes causes neuropathy are complex, involving several pathways and factors:

  • High Blood Sugar Levels. Chronic high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) can injure nerves by disrupting the normal function of the peripheral nervous system. Furthermore, elevated glucose levels increase oxidative stress, leading to the production of free radicals that damage nerve cells.
  • Blood Vessel Damage. High blood sugar can damage the small blood vessels that supply nerves with essential nutrients and oxygen, leading to nerve damage. The reduced blood flow (ischemia) can also cause nerves to deteriorate over time.
  • Inflammation. Diabetes is associated with chronic low-grade inflammation, which can contribute to nerve damage and exacerbate neuropathic symptoms.
  • Metabolic Changes. High glucose levels can lead to the formation of Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs), which can accumulate in nerve tissue and impair nerve function. Excess glucose can also be converted into sorbitol within nerve cells, leading to cellular damage and dysfunction.

Types of Diabetic Neuropathy

Diabetic neuropathy can manifest in several different forms, each affecting different parts of the body and presenting unique symptoms. The most common type of neuropathy that affects people with diabetes is peripheral neuropathy, with symptoms being numbness, tingling or pain in the feet and hands. Over time, this can lead to foot ulcers, infections and even amputations if not properly managed. 

Another type of neuropathy that is common in diabetics is autonomic neuropathy. The symptoms affect the autonomic nervous system, leading to issues such as bladder problems, digestive issues, sexual dysfunction and cardiovascular abnormalities. Due to the impact of these symptoms, autonomic neuropathy can cause significant disruptions in daily life and increase the risk of other health complications.

Proximal neuropathy causes pain and weakness in the hips, thighs or buttocks. It is less common but can be very debilitating. The symptoms can progress to severe weakness and muscle atrophy, affecting mobility and independence. Lastly, focal neuropathy affects specific nerves, often in the head, torso or leg, causing sudden weakness or pain. Symptoms typically appear suddenly and can cause significant pain and functional impairment, but they often improve over time.

Symptoms of Diabetic Neuropathy

Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy can vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. They can come and go or linger. The most common symptoms associated with diabetic neuropathy are: 

  • Numbness 
  • Reduced ability to feel pain or temperature changes
  • Tingling or burning sensations
  • Sharp pains or cramps 
  • Increased sensitivity to touch 
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of reflexes, especially in the ankles 
  • Serious foot problems, such as ulcers and infections
  • Bone and joint pain 

Diagnosis and Treatment

Early diagnosis and treatment of diabetic neuropathy are crucial to managing symptoms and preventing further nerve damage. Diagnosis typically involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, and specific tests such as nerve conduction studies, electromyography and quantitative sensory testing.

There is no known cure for diabetic neuropathy. The goals of treatment are to slow progression, relieve pain, manage complications and restore function. Fortunately, this can be done in a number of ways. 

Blood Sugar Control

Maintaining blood sugar levels within the target range is the most effective way to prevent or slow the progression of diabetic neuropathy. Aside from eating the right foods, there are also medications such as insulin that can help manage blood sugar levels. Be sure to take these medications on time to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. 

Pain Management

Managing pain is an important part of treating diabetic neuropathy. Even though the pain meds won’t cure the condition, it can alleviate pain so that you can live more comfortably and be more active, which in turn eases neuropathy symptoms. Common medications that treat diabetic neuropathy are pain relievers, anticonvulsants, antidepressants and topical treatments.

Physical Therapy

Working with a physical therapist can also be helpful, as they can teach you exercises and therapies to improve strength, balance and mobility. Physical therapy programs look different from person to person, and yours will include a range of stretches and exercises to support good nerve function, such as aerobic exercises, flexibility training, strength exercises and balance exercises. 

Lifestyle Modifications

Eating a balanced diet that helps control blood sugar levels is key. Some of the best foods to eat include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, low-fat dairy products, fiber-rich foods, heart-healthy fish and good fats. Foods to avoid include saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol and sodium. 

Exercise is another important component of a healthy lifestyle. Physical activity can improve blood sugar control, reduce pain and enhance overall health. It’s also great for the nerves as it improves blood flow and increases the number of branches in your nerve fibers. Also, regular foot inspections, proper footwear and prompt treatment of any foot injuries or infections are effective lifestyle habits you’ll want to adopt. 

Alternative Therapies

Acupuncture may provide relief for some individuals. There are also certain vitamins and supplements, such as alpha-lipoic acid, that may help manage symptoms, but always consult with a healthcare provider first. 


Diabetic neuropathy is a serious and common complication of diabetes that can significantly impact quality of life. Understanding the connection between diabetes and neuropathy is crucial for prevention and effective management. By maintaining good blood sugar control, adopting a healthy lifestyle and seeking appropriate medical care, individuals with diabetes can reduce their risk of developing neuropathy and manage its symptoms if it occurs. To learn more about Neuro Health’s supplements and creams, contact us today or place an order. All products are backed by our 100% satisfaction guarantee. 

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