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Nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy)

Nerves carry signals between your brain and other parts of your body so that you can move, feel and control your body. Over a long period of time, high blood glucose levels can cause damage to your nerves.
Content last reviewed and updated: 21.08.2023

Types of diabetic neuropathy

There are different types of nerve damage, also known as diabetic neuropathy, including:

  • Peripheral neuropathy, affects the feet, legs, hands and arms
  • Autonomic neuropathy, damage to the nerves that help your body to function, like the digestive system
  • Pressure and bladder control
  • Sensory neuropathy, responsible for transmitting sensation, such as pain and touch
  • Motor neuropathy, damage to the nerves responsible for controlling muscles

If left untreated, nerve damage can cause problems in many different parts of the body.

Symptoms can be treated but damage can’t be reversed. By managing your type 1 diabetes the best you can, you can reduce the risk or stop further damage.

Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy

The symptoms of diabetic neuropathy will depend on the type of nerve damage you have.

Common symptoms include numbness, tingling or sharp pains in the feet, legs, arms or hands. You might experience pins and needles, a loss of sensation or burning. These symptoms might keep you awake at night.

You could experience a loss of bladder control, an irregular heartbeat, muscle cramps or a lack of sweat.

Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis is a type of autonomic neuropathy where the stomach can’t empty in the normal way. Damage to the nerves means food passes through the stomach slower than usual. This can cause unpredictable blood glucose levels or your body to not get the nutrients it needs.

Getting diagnosed with diabetic neuropathy

Your GP will ask you questions about your symptoms, examine you and may arrange some tests.

It depends on what nerve damage you may have to what tests your GP will do. You may be referred to your local hospital to see a specialist.

Your nerves will be checked in your annual diabetes review.

If you experience any symptoms of nerve damage, don’t wait for your annual check. Speak to your GP or Diabetes Healthcare Team straight away.

Reducing your risk of diabetic neuropathy

Try and keep your blood glucose levels within your target range as best you can to help reduce your risk of nerve damage. It can be hard to manage your blood glucose levels and no one gets it right all of the time. Ask for support from your Diabetes Healthcare Team if you need it. Controlling blood pressure and cholesterol can also help to reduce your risk of nerve damage.

Take good care of your feet by checking them daily if you can. That way you’ll notice any cuts or wounds early, which you might not feel.

How is diabetic neuropathy treated?

Nerve damage can’t be reversed so catching it early is important to help stop it getting worse.

There are lots of treatments to reduce the symptoms of nerve damage depending on the type of neuropathy you have. It can take a bit of time for treatments to help the symptoms.

Where to go for more support

If you experience any symptoms of nerve damage, speak to your GP or Diabetes Healthcare Team. They can help you to reduce the risk of damage getting worse and give you treatments to reduce your symptoms.

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