What is Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy?1
A global epidemic of diabetes has emerged, largely as a result of increasingly sedentary lifestyles and a rising prevalence of obesity. Diabetes affects close to 26 million people in the United States.
Diabetes makes your blood sugar level higher than normal. High blood sugar levels can damage the nerves in your body. When diabetes damages the nerves, it’s called diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN).
Neuropathy is one of the most common and troublesome complications of diabetes, and the number of people afflicted is likely to increase steadily as the incidence of diabetes in the developed world rises. Diabetic neuropathy makes your nerves less effective, so they can’t carry messages to the brain and other parts of your body. Diabetic neuropathy can affect your ability to feel sensation in different parts of your body, especially your feet and toes.
How Common is Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy?2-5
People with diabetes can develop nerve problems at any time. Significant clinical neuropathy can develop within the first 10 years after diagnosis of diabetes and the risk of developing neuropathy increases the longer a person has diabetes. Some recent studies have reported that an estimated 50% to 90% of patients with diabetes have DN depending on the criteria used for diagnosis.
The financial cost to society is considerable, indicated by the fact that 20% of hospital admissions among diabetes patients in the U.S. are for foot problems.While diabetic neuropathy is present in more than half of individuals afflicted with diabetes, painful diabetic neuropathy (DPNP) affects approximately 30% of patients with DN. Diabetic neuropathy has a tremendous impact on quality of life, sleep disruption, impaired activities of daily living, imbalance and instability of gait with increased fall risk and psychosocial disorders.
Diabetic neuropathy appears to be more common in smokers, people over 40 years of age, and those who have had problems controlling their blood glucose levels.
Causes of Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy 2
How high sugar levels lead to nerve damage is a subject of intense research, but several factors are likely to contribute to the disorder:
- Elevated blood sugar levels cause chemical changes in nerves. These changes impair the nerves’ ability to transmit signals.
- Elevated sugar levels also damage blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to the nerves
Researchers have focused on the effect that excessive blood sugar levels have on nitric oxide (NO) in nerves.
Did You Know?
Nitric oxide is a substance that your body naturally produces which dilates blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the peripheral vessels and peripheral nerves.
If you have diabetes, low levels of nitric oxide may lead to decreased blood flow by constricting the blood vessels supplying oxygen and nutrients to the nerve, contributing to nerve damage.