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Understanding Diabetic Neuropathy

Estimates indicate that approximately 24 million American have diabetes—half of whom also have diabetic neuropathy. There are many forms of peripheral neuropathy associated with diabetes. The most common is diabetic polyneuropathy (DPN), which begins in the toes and feet. Thought to be caused by elevated blood sugars, DPN can make the simplest of activities—such as sleeping or walking—extremely uncomfortable. Although neuropathy can sometimes be the first sign of diabetes, risk of the condition rises with age and longer duration of diabetes.

A peripheral nerve disorder, DPN affects the nerves that go from the spinal cord out into the limbs and trunk. Typically, the longest nerves—those that extend from the spine to the feet—are affected the most. That’s why the condition is often characterized by numbness, pain or tingling in the feet or legs.

DPN can cause imbalance, difficulty walking on uneven surfaces, and loss of feeling or sensation. Because it inhibits the ability to sense problems, it can predispose a person to injuries of the feet and toes, and lead to the development of ulcers, wounds and chronic infection in the feet.

Some mild cases may go unnoticed for years, but more serious forms cause severe pain or other symptoms that interfere with daily activities. If left untreated, the condition can result in further nerve damage to other parts of the body, such as the eyes, digestive tract and sexual organs. It also is the primary cause of amputations, resulting in nearly one case every five-and-a-half minutes in the United States.

Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent or delay nerve damage—even if you already have diabetic neuropathy. At Johns Hopkins Bayview, we offer the latest therapies to ease your symptoms and treat the condition.

Other forms of neuropathy in diabetes patients include:

  • truncal neuropathy
  • diabetic amyotrophy
  • focal neuropathy
  • autonomic neuropathy

For more information about diabetic neuropathy, visit our Links and Resources page.

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