Peripheral neuropathy describes damage to your peripheral nerves, that is, the nerves to your hands and feet. Damage to these nerves interrupts the important sensory information pathway between the limbs and the brain, resulting in changes to what you feel. While nerve damage can affect any part of the body, in the lower limbs the primary cause for neuropathy is diabetes, and so is otherwise known as diabetic neuropathy.
What causes neuropathy?
It is the prolonged exposure to high levels of blood sugar as a result of diabetes that results in this nerve damage. It is estimated that almost half of people with diabetes will develop neuropathy. Other causes of neuropathy can include:
- Nerve injury
- Systemic conditions, autoimmune and other diseases
- Exposure to toxins
- Side-effects of particular medications
- Poor nutrition and vitamin deficiency
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of peripheral neuropathy come on gradually and worsen over time. They affect the feet and toes and can include:
- Pins and needles
- Reduced ability to detect hot and cold sensations
- Muscle weakness
- Impaired reflexes
- Absence of sensation
Any interference with the ability to feel places the affected person at an increased risk of complications such as infection and ulceration.
How is neuropathy treated?
Because damage to the nerves is generally irreversible, it’s all about managing the symptoms, preventing their onset if possible and delaying their progression once they start. With diabetes, this is done by keeping your blood sugar in check and maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle.
It’s also important to take care of the symptoms that neuropathy is having on your feet. If you’re experiencing numbness that is limiting your ability to detect any cuts or wounds, a daily check of your feet will greatly reduce your risk of infection and complications. Other safety measures you can take include:
- Checking your feet daily
- Wearing shoes outside the house and slippers inside the house
- Staying aware of any new or unusual symptoms (to report to your Podiatrist and GP)
- Wearing good, comfortable shoes
- Keeping your feet clean
- Being careful when cutting toenails to not accidentally damage the skin
- Managing any other conditions that affect sensation, such as callus and dry skin
If you do notice anything abnormal, it’s important that you report it to us and your GP. We perform annual foot screenings that assess your sensation. This must be done regularly due to the progressive nature of neuropathy, so you stay aware of all of your risks and how to best manage them.
Some medications can assist in reducing the symptoms and exercises may be prescribed to improve function, stability and strength.