Story by: Norton Healthcare; Reviewed by Lisal J. Folsom, M.D., M.S. on July 7, 2023
Diabetic neuropathy occurs when high blood sugar levels damage nerves — often in the legs and feet — resulting in pain and numbness. Diabetic neuropathy has no known cure, but treatment can bring relief and slow the progression of nerve damage.
Monitoring and maintaining your blood sugar within the target range with guidance from your endocrinologist or primary care provider are the first steps in preventing and slowing the progression of nerve damage.
There are some medications that can help to relieve leg pain and other symptoms of diabetic neuropathy. Some of these medications include anti-seizure medications and antidepressants; they can be effective for nerve pain even in people who do not have seizures or depression.
Because high blood sugar can affect nerves throughout the body, leg pain may be a warning sign that you need to consult with other specialists to evaluate for nerve damage elsewhere in the body. Your diabetes care provider can help guide you toward other specialists to include in your diabetes management team.
With offices across the Louisville area, treatment for your diabetes isn’t too far away.
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“Keeping your blood pressure under control, eating a balanced nutrition plan, staying active and quitting tobacco are all steps you can take right now to reduce your risk of diabetic neuropathy,” said Lisal J. Folsom, M.D., MS, an adult and pediatric endocrinologist with Norton Community Medical Associates – Endocrinology, Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute and Norton Children’s Endocrinology, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine.
Nearly 50% of people with diabetes develop diabetic neuropathy. Symptoms may begin with pain that starts in the feet and progresses upward. These symptoms can significantly affect your quality of life.
There are many forms of neuropathy, depending on which part of your body is affected. Autonomic neuropathy results from damage to nerves that control automatic body functions, including digestion, bladder and sexual function, blood pressure, and body temperature. Damage to a single nerve is called mononeuropathy, and damage to multiple nerves is called polyneuropathy.
Peripheral neuropathy affects the limbs, often feet, legs, hands and arms. This is the type that causes leg pain. Nerve damage that results in weakness in the hips, thighs and shoulders is called proximal neuropathy; this is more rare than peripheral neuropathy.
Living with leg pain and other diabetes-related conditions can be difficult. Certified diabetes care and education specialists at Norton Healthcare can help by providing education about diabetes care, medications, and nutrition. These diabetes educators are available to support Norton Healthcare patients through their treatment plan, discuss lifestyle changes and connect them with our support group and other community resources.
In-person and online support groups meet monthly. Led by Stacy L. Koch, APRN, an endocrinology nurse practitioner, the meetings offer an opportunity to connect and talk with other people who have diabetes. Each month there is a topic of focus — past topics have included coping with diabetes, healthy eating, exercise and medications.
Email DiabetesProgram@nortonhealthcare.org to get connected.
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