Diabetic Neuropathy
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Diabetic Neuropathy

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Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage associated with diabetes. It results in damage to a person’s feet, legs, eyes, and bodily functions. Diabetic neuropathy can lead to serious complications. See your doctor if you suspect you have this condition.

Nerves of the Foot


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Researchers believe that diabetic neuropathy is likely caused by a combination of factors, including:

Risk Factors

The following factors are thought to increase the risk of diabetic neuropathy:


Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy may include:

  • Numbness in the extremities
  • Tingling in the extremities
  • Pain in the extremities
  • Wasting of the muscles of the feet or hands
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Urination problems
  • Impotence or vaginal dryness
  • Weakness in arms and or legs.
  • Weakness of facial muscles resulting in:
    • Drooping eyelid
    • Drooping mouth
    • Facial Droop
    • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Muscle Cramps


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Other tests may include:

  • Foot exam—to assess sensation in the foot
  • Nerve conduction studies—to test nerve activity
  • Electromyography—to determine how muscles respond to nerve signals
  • Quantitative sensory testing—the use of stimuli (eg, vibration) to check for neuropathy
  • QSART (quantitative sudomotor axon reflex test) a test which evaluates the inervation of sweat glands.
  • Heart rate tests—to determine how the heart responds to changes
  • Ultrasound—to view internal organs
  • Biopsy—to remove a sample of nerve or skin tissue for examination


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:

Blood Glucose Management

It is important to regularly monitor blood glucose levels. Bring them within normal range with meal planning, exercise, and/or medications.

Foot Care

If you have diabetic neuropathy, you will need to take special care of your feet, since the nerves in the feet are the ones most often affected by neuropathy. This care will involve regular visits to a foot doctor and careful cleaning, inspection, moisturizing, and grooming of your feet. In addition, always wearing well-fitting shoes or slippers and thick, soft, seamless socks can help protect your feet from injuries.

Other Treatments

Other treatments will depend on your symptoms. Medications can be used to relieve pain, burning, tingling, or numbness. Oftentimes, the medications used to treat these symptoms are the same types of medications used to treat seizures and depression. Modifying your diet and/or taking erythromycin or another antibiotic can help with gastrointestinal problems. Taking care when sitting or standing, increasing salt intake, or taking medications can help manage dizziness and weakness. An antibiotic can be prescribed to treat a urinary tract infection. Medications can be used to treat erectile dysfunction, and vaginal lubricants are recommended to treat vaginal dryness.


The best way to prevent diabetic neuropathy is to regularly monitor and manage your blood glucose levels. Your doctor can instruct you about how often to check your levels, and what the numbers mean.


American Diabetes Association

National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse


Canadian Diabetes Association

Health Canada


Diabetic neuropathies: the nerve damage of diabetes. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/neuropathies/. Accessed May 24, 2007.

Diabetic neuropathy. DynaMed website. Available at: http://dynamed101.ebscohost.com/Detail.aspx?id=115259. Accessed May 24, 2007.

Diabetic neuropathies. Medline Plus website. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000693.htm.

Ogawa K, Sasaki H, Yamasaki H, et al. Peripheral nerve functions may deteriorate parallel to the progression of microangiopathy in diabetic patients. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2006;16:313-321.

Stewart JD. Diabetic neuropathies. In: Gilman S, ed. MedLink Neurology. San Diego, CA: MedLink Corporation. Available at: http://www.medlink.com. Accessed August 10, 2007.

Vinik AI. Diabetic neuropathies. Med Clin North Am. 2004;88:947-999.

Last reviewed April 2008 by Rimas Lukas, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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