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Managing Diabetes Complications: Nerve and Pain Damage

High blood glucose may damage the insulation of nerve cells and nerves may stop sending signals through the body the way they should. This is called neuropathy.

Many people know that nerve damage can affect their hands and feet—that is why your healthcare professional should check the sensation in your feet at every visit. But nerve damage can affect every organ in the body—from your digestive tract to your bladder and sexual organs. Nerve damage can also affect your ability to feel the symptoms of low blood glucose.1

Who Is at Risk for Diabetic Neuropathy?

About 60%–70% of people with diabetes have some form of nerve damage. The highest rates are among people who have had diabetes for at least 25 years and among those who have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or weight issues. It is also more prevalent among people with problems controlling their blood glucose.1

Neuropathy Symptoms

The symptoms of nerve damage depend on the type of neuropathy and which nerves are affected. In some types of neuropathy, there may be no symptoms at all. Because it develops slowly, mild cases can go unnoticed for a long time. Look for the following symptoms:

  • Numbness, tingling or pain in the toes, feet, legs, hands, arms and fingers
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Indigestion, nausea or vomiting
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Dizziness or faintness when you stand or sit up
  • Profuse sweating at night or when eating
  • Problems with urination
  • Sexual issues, such as erectile dysfunction in men and vaginal dryness in women
  • Loss of balance or coordination

Treatment for Diabetic Nerve Damage

Your treatment for diabetic neuropathy is likely to start with blood glucose control. Blood glucose monitoring, meal planning, physical activity and medication may all help as well. Your healthcare professional may also recommend oral medication or a topical cream for pain relief.

If you have any of the symptoms listed above, be sure to tell your healthcare professional.


1 National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetic neuropathies: the nerve damage of diabetes. Available at: Accessed October 16, 2008.


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