Ginger Vieira was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 13, celiac disease a year later, and fibromyalgia in 2014. Ginger provides great insights into life with multiple chronic illnesses, including how to make the most of your life despite your health setbacks.
Diabetic neuropathy is a condition that develops in people with diabetes, usually in combination with higher blood sugars, in which the nerves in your feet, toes, finger, eyes and other organs become damaged. The most common symptoms are burning, sharp shooting pain, freezing, numbness and tingling in the feet and hands.
While living with neuropathy can be hard, the good news is, after you're diagnosed, there are several things you can do to protect your feet from further damage, and also to prevent your neuropathy from progressing.
Check your feet—every night. This is no joke, because even a small cut or scrape or splinter in the foot could lead to an infection. If that infection isn't noticed soon enough, it can lead to bigger problems, such as amputation. So, sitting down to actually inspect and check for any cuts in your feet is crucial also because you might not actually feel those cuts because of the numbness and tingling. If you need to, ask a loved-one to help you get a closer look at the bottoms of your feet and between your toes!
Get the right socks and shoes. You've probably seen those "diabetic socks" in magazines and figured they were just another sales gimmick. But many are actually made with a variety of materials that lessen the amount of dampness and sweating your foot will experience over the course of a day, promoting a healthy environment for vulnerable feet. Getting the right shoes is important for the sake of preventing any blisters or rubbing. If your shoes are too tight or uncomfortable, it's worth your while to have someone at a shoe store fit your feet for the best sneaker!
Quit smoking. After being diagnosed with neuropathy, you have a big opportunity to change a few things in your life to truly prevent that neuropathy from progressing — and quitting smoking is one of those things. Because smoking narrows your arteries, limiting and reducing blood flow, it can further limit the amount of blood that flows to those vulnerable areas such as your feet and fingers. Quitting smoking can also help reduce some of the more painful symptoms.
Check your blood sugar more often. While neuropathy can develop in people without diabetes, it is most common associated with diabetics who have higher blood sugars over extended periods of time. Checking your blood sugar more often, especially after meals, is a great way to get your numbers down and reduce the chances of your neuropathy progressing. Improved blood sugars can also help reduce the more painful symptoms.
Reduce your A1c. Last but not least, and directly connected to No. 4 above, reducing your A1c, which is an overall impression of your blood sugars from the previous three months, is a crucial part of reducing symptoms and preventing progression. Aiming for an A1c under eight percent is a great start. Next, aiming for under seven precent will help prevent other diabetes-related complications. Talk to your diabetes team about making adjustments in your medications and nutrition to help you achieve your goals!