Dr. Travis Stork from the hit TV show The Doctors explains diabetic neuropathy.

What are the conditions and treatments for diabetic neuropathy?

According to the American Diabetes Association, a staggering 8 million or more people are living with undiagnosed diabetes in the United States. For this reason, it’s imperative that everyone has an idea of their baseline blood glucose levels so that action can be taken to prevent diabetes and its complications. Diabetic neuropathy is one of those complications. Fortunately, it is not a condition that happens overnight, as symptoms usually worsen over time if diabetes is poorly treated. People with high blood glucose levels are often unknowingly putting themselves at risk for the condition.

There are about 200,000 cases of diabetic neuropathy every year in the U.S. Increased blood glucose levels over time damage nerve fibers, most commonly in the feet and lower extremities, which can lead to loss of normal sensation and severe pain.

Diabetic neuropathy can be difficult to identify because it manifests differently from patient to patient. Symptoms can include any combination of numbness, tingling, burning or even extreme crushing pain in the feet and legs. Some might just notice a loss of sensation in their lower extremities. This loss of sensation is extremely alarming because it puts patients at a higher risk for developing injuries and open sores. These sores and injuries, if left untreated, can lead to amputations as well as life threatening systemic infections. The National Institute of Health estimates more than 60 percent of all non-traumatic lower-limb amputations in the U.S. occur in people with diabetes.

For this reason, it’s recommended that people with diabetes get a foot exam at least once a year with a dedicated specialist. In some cases, symptoms may eventually move to the hands and, in extreme cases, the autonomic nervous system can get involved affecting major organs such as the heart and bladder.

The best treatment of diabetic neuropathy beyond prevention is control. Once it develops, the condition cannot be cured. Patients can help prevent the symptoms from progressing by closely managing their blood glucose numbers. Making healthier lifestyle choices, such as being more active and eating a cleaner diet, are extremely important. As with all things related to health, quitting smoking is one of the most important changes one can make to reduce the discomfort of diabetic neuropathy.

This condition might seem innocent in its early stages, but it can be a serious and debilitating illness if not monitored and treated appropriately, so have a plan in place and work closely with your healthcare provider to prevent complications.

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Travis Stork, M.D., is a board-certified emergency room physician and the host of the Emmy Award-winning TV series The Doctors. The New York Times best-selling author of The Doctor’s Diet, and The Doctor’s Diet Cookbook. Visit thedoctorstv.com for more information.