What is diabetic neuropathy?

By Dr. Austin Smith

Diabetic neuropathy can affect folks living with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). Elevated blood sugars can damage nerves, usually first in the legs and feet. But other nerves throughout the body can be damaged as well.

Symptoms can vary considerably, and depend on the particular nerves that have been damaged. One might experience tingling, numbness, muscle weakness, or burning pains. Or one might experience a high heart rate even at rest, or even sudden decreases in blood pressure when rising to a standing position. Severity can span quite a range, from barely noticeable to significantly painful.

All people living with type 2 diabetes are at risk for developing diabetic neuropathy. There are certain factors that make diabetic neuropathy more likely, however. The longer one has T2DM, the higher the risk. The higher one’s blood sugars, the higher the risk. Cigarette smokers, too, carry a higher risk of developing diabetic neuropathy.

Diabetic neuropathy can lead to the development of a number of other health problems. For example, numbness in the feet can make it more difficult to notice a small wound that might continue to fester unnoticed until it’s become infected. Such an infection could spread to other parts of the body. This could lead to joint damage or even the amputation of a limb. Diabetic neuropathy could even make it more difficult to experience symptoms like, for example, sweating, which would ordinarily alert someone with T2DM of a low blood sugar.

Keeping one’s blood sugars in a good range, as determined by your health care provider, can help prevent symptoms and even improve symptoms if they’ve already developed. Achieving and maintaining a healthy blood pressure, as determined by your health care provider, can also help reduce the risk of developing diabetic neuropathy. Quitting smoking also helps. As can aerobic exercise.

In the event the pain becomes too severe, prescription medications can be tried, although they can help only to reduce the pain, not eliminate it.

Learn more about reversing diabetes through nutrition.


Jameson, J. L., Kasper, D. L., Longo, D.L., Fauci, A. S., Hauser, S. L., & Loscalzo, J. (2018). Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine (19th Ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

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