image of nerve network

About half of people with diabetes have some kind of nerve damage. Peripheral nerves help you feel pain, heat, and cold. Damage to these nerves is called DPN. Two out of 10 people already have DPN when they’re diagnosed with diabetes. But usually people get DPN have had diabetes for a while. Someone who is obese or has prediabetes or metabolic syndrome (an unhealthy combination of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and belly fat) has a greater chance of getting DPN, too.

How does DPN affect you?

DPN most often affects your feet and legs, but it can affect your hands and arms, too. Your feet or fingers may tingle. The muscles around your ankles become weak. You may feel numb. This numbness means you may get small cuts, blisters or burns and not notice them. Since diabetes makes these wounds slower to heal, these injuries can become infected easily.

What Causes It?

If you have diabetes, you are more likely to have high levels of glucose and (a kind of fat) in your blood. With time, the glucose and triglycerides damage the nerves that send pain signals to your brain. They also damage the tiny blood vessels that supply the nerves with nutrients. Check your blood sugar and blood pressure regularly to catch DPN. Your doctor will use blood and urine tests track your blood sugar and triglyceride levels.

  • Ask you doctor for an annual test, if you have type 2 diabetes.
  • If you have type 1, get tested yearly, starting from puberty or after 5 years if you were diagnosed when you were older.

Treating DPN

Drugs for depression (citalopram, desipramine, nortriptyline, paroxetine) and seizures (gabapentin, pregabalin) could make your DPN hurt less, but over-the-counter painkillers may not. Products you put on your skin to numb it, like lidocaine, might also help. Nothing will reverse the nerve damage. Infection

Good to Know: Diabetes and DPN and Charcot Foot

If DPN is severe, it may weaken the bones in your foot. They could crack or break, making your foot red, sore, or swollen. Since because you can’t feel it, you may keep walking on your foot and deform it.

Get tested regularly to make sure that you catch DPN early.