What is Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy?

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  • Written By: Laura M. Sands
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 08 January 2020
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Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is the term used to describe nerve damage affecting the extremities. Also referred to as diabetic neuropathy or peripheral neuropathy, this disorder causes an interruption in information sent from the central nervous system to other parts of the body. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is caused by low blood glucose levels and is one of the leading causes of leg and foot amputation in diabetics. While not every person with diabetes develops neuropathy, many do.

Individuals suffering from diabetic peripheral neuropathy may be asymptomatic, particularly at the onset of this disorder. With time, however, patients begin to experience numbness and tingling beginning in the feet before symptoms gradually ascend to the legs. Symptoms may also include ulcers in the legs and feet, which may heal slowly or not at all. Some with diabetic peripheral neuropathy may also experience impaired mobility due to muscle shrinkage, which is also a common symptom of this nerve disorder.

It is not uncommon for a doctor to be the first to realize the symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Due to a decrease in sensation, some people are unaware of changes occurring in their extremities. Individuals with this disorder are also the frequent victims of household burns and cuts as the result of feeling loss, which includes desensitization to pain, heat and cold.


Neuropathy is sometimes discovered during a routine checkup where a doctor closely examines a diabetic patient’s feet and legs. For this reason, diabetic patients are always asked to remove stockings or socks during an examination to allow doctors to check for blisters, cuts, wounds or other signs of injury that the patient may not be aware of. When injuries are unnoticed, many become infected. It is when untreated infection spreads to a patient’s bone that amputation becomes necessary. During an examination, doctors will also check a patient’s reflexes, as many with diabetic peripheral neuropathy experience deficits in this area, as well.

Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is not reversible, but it can be managed and its progression slowed to prevent amputation if detected early enough. Treatment for diabetic peripheral neuropathy symptoms involve strict blood glucose monitoring to prevent further nerve damage, as well as pain medications to offer relief from symptoms. Individuals with various types of neuropathy also sometimes develop depression due to emotional feelings about their health, as well as a lack of sleep due to neuropathy symptoms. When depression develops, treatment may also involve antidepressant medications.



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