The “worst-case-scenario” stories of diabetic neuropathy are terrifying. They generally go something like this: A diabetic person loses feeling in their feet. They get a cut, blister or other injury, but don’t notice it. The wound gets infected and festers. Then, beyond healing, the foot must be amputated.
Unfortunately, this worst-case scenario happens far too often. But there are ways to prevent this from happening to you.
Diabetic neuropathy is the result of nerve damage caused by diabetes. It can occur throughout the body, and about 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes have some form of the disorder. While it’s possible for some people with nerve damage to not have symptoms, it’s more common to have numbness, tingling, or pain.
Peripheral neuropathy is the most common form of diabetic neuropathy. It affects the very ends of the longest nerves first – meaning, your feet and legs are most at risk.
It’s often human nature to procrastinate addressing or learning about an issue until it’s an absolute necessity. But in the case of diabetic foot neuropathy, the best way to protect yourself is to take action before the problem starts. Here are some risk factors and tips for preventing foot neuropathy to be aware to help:
Know the risks.
Anyone with diabetes can develop nerve problems at any time, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says the risks increase with your age and duration of diabetes. People who have had diabetes for 25 years or more have the highest rates of neuropathy. It is also more common in people who have high blood pressure and are overweight.
One of the biggest risks for developing diabetic neuropathy is having out of control blood sugar levels. Keeping blood glucose levels as close to normal range as possible protects nerves throughout your body.
The National Diabetes Education Program recommends having your doctor do a comprehensive foot exam at least once per year or when there’s a new abnormality. Diabetics who are at high-risk for foot neuropathy should be checked at every visit.
A comprehensive foot exam assesses the skin, muscles, bones, circulation and sensation of the feet. For example, your doctor may use a monofilament, similar to a brush bristle, or a tuning fork to see if you’re able to feel vibrations.
Check your shoes.
How often does your medical advice include shoe shopping? Take advantage! Diabetics need to pay special attention to the fit and type of shoe they wear. Athletic and walking shoes that can be adjusted with laces, Velcro or buckles are ideal. Avoid unbreathable and inflexible materials, and instead choose ones like canvas, leather and suede. Especially if you’re at high-risk, it’s worth the style sacrifice to give up open-toe shoes, high-heels and sandals.
Develop a daily care routine.
The National Institute of Health recommends you check your feet every day, looking at the top, sides, soles, heels and between your toes. You should also wash your feet and toes daily in warm water (check temperature with a thermometer or another part of your body if you can’t feel it!). Thoroughly dry your feet, especially between toes, and use lotion to avoid dryness and cracking. Avoid ingrown nails by cutting straight across. You can make this a treat, instead of a chore by using a mild soap and lotion you like and making it a relaxing break.
Share your thoughts and tips for how to prevent diabetic neuropathy in the comment section below.