Do these statements apply to you?
• You sometimes feel like you have socks or gloves on when you don’t
• Your feet hurt at night.
• You feel burning or shooting pains in your feet.
• Your feet are numb and you can’t feel your feet when walking.
People who experience tingling sensations, “pins and needles”, or numbness in the feet may not think too much of these symptoms. However if they persist, it may signal a condition known as neuropathy that can lead to bigger problems.
Neuropathy refers to a medical condition where nerves become damaged. It is caused by a variety of reasons including diabetes, excessive alcohol consumption, genetic predisposition, infection, cancer, nutritional deficiencies, exposure to toxins, diseases that cause chronic inflammation involving the nerves, and other unclear factors.
Among all, diabetes is the most prevalent cause of nerve damage. This condition is medically known as diabetic neuropathy. It occurs when a nerve or group of nerves is damaged as a result of high blood glucose level.
Here are some statistics regarding diabetic neuropathy:
Up to 50% of diabetics will suffer from diabetic neuropathy over the course of their disease, according to a 2004 review titled “Diabetic somatic neuropathies” published in Diabetes Care.
According to a 2011 study titled “Metabolic correction in the management of diabetic peripheral neuropathy: Improving clinical results beyond symptom control”, published in Current Clinical Pharmacology, up to 50% of diabetics with diabetic neuropathy do not experience any symptoms.
The prevalence of diabetic neuropathy increases with age and diabetic years. It starts in the pre-diabetic stage, and 8% of diabetics already have diabetic neuropathy when diagnosed with diabetes, according to a 1993 study titled “The prevalence by staged severity of various types of diabetic neuropathy, retinopathy and nephropathy in a population-based cohort: The Rochester diabetic neuropathy study”, published in Neurology.
Fifty percent of diabetics over 60 years old have diabetic neuropathy, according to a 1993 study titled “A multi-centre study of the prevalence of diabetic peripheral neuropathy in the United Kingdom hospital clinic population”, published in Diabetologia.
Fifty percent of diabetics are unable to name diabetic neuropathy as a complication from diabetes because of low awareness, according to a 2009 article titled “Diabetes mellitus: Awareness of disease and life style changes in female patients”, published in Journal Of Postgraduate Medical Institute.
Only 28% of diabetics are aware that people with type 2 diabetes are more likely to undergo an amputation than those without diabetes, according to ICM Research survey.
Diabetic Foot Care
Most people take foot care for granted. For diabetics, however, foot care is a serious matter that can bring about unfortunate consequences if neglected.
This is because nerve damage can bring about reduced or loss of sensation in the feet, causing sores and small injuries to go unnoticed and become badly ulcerated, infected or difficult to heal.
The healing process for diabetics is also compromised by poor circulation. Eventually amputation of the toe, foot or even lower leg may be necessary if treatment is no longer possible.
While you may know that diabetes can lead to amputation, you may not know that the reason for amputation is nerve damage. Amputation can be avoided with proper nerve care.
Other complications of diabetic neuropathy to watch out for include joint deformities, sharp pain and extreme sensitivity in limbs, urinary tract infections, incontinence, low blood pressure, digestive problems, sexual dysfunction and eye complications.
Amputation and foot ulceration are common, serious problems among diabetics that can be prevented or delayed if identified and dealt with early on.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that diabetic adults go for annual health screenings to detect diabetic neuropathy. Such screenings involve recording your disease history, a physical foot inspection, and neurological and diabetic peripheral neuropathy tests.
There are five simple clinical tests to diagnose peripheral neuropathy in the legs and arms, including pinprick sensation and ankle reflex testing, vibration testing using a tuning fork, and biothesiometry.
Tight blood sugar control, appropriate dietary control, proper foot care, regular exercise and smoking cessation are important to prevent or delay neuropathy and associated complications.
Vitamins B1, B6 & B12
B vitamins, specifically thiamine (vitamin B1), pyridoxine (vitamin B6) and cobalamin (vitamin B12), are used by the body in the processes of nourishing and regenerating nerves.
Vitamin B1 is involved in energy metabolism, helps maintain the myelin sheaths that cover the axons of nerves, and is used in the synthesis of key signalling molecules in the nervous system which are known as neurotransmitters.
Vitamin B6 is involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, while vitamin B12 is involved in nerve cell maturation and regeneration, nerve cell metabolism and formation of nerve myelin sheaths.
In populations at risk of neuropathy, especially diabetics, early detection and treatment of neuropathy is crucial to avoid irreversible damage to nerves.