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How Diabetes Causes Nerve Disease - Topic Overview

The high blood sugar from diabetes affects the nerves and over time increases a person's risk for nerve damage. Keeping blood sugar levels within the target range recommended by your doctor helps prevent diabetic neuropathy.

  • The most common type of nerve disease (neuropathy) affects both sensory nerves, which send information to the spinal cord and brain, and motor nerves, which relay impulses from the brain and spinal cord to move muscles. This is called diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
  • Diabetes also affects the nerves that control involuntary body functions, such as digestion. This is called diabetic autonomic neuropathy.
  • Diabetes can affect single nerves. This is called diabetic focal neuropathy.

Diabetic peripheral neuropathy

With peripheral neuropathy, people experience a decrease in sensation or even numbness as well as trouble moving the feet and, later on, the fingers and hands. As a result of this neuropathy, many people with diabetes can't feel when they have injured their feet, and they may not know if calluses or ulcers form. Because of the risk of serious foot injury and infection, it is very important that people with diabetes learn how to examine their feet daily, wear shoes that fit well, and protect their feet from injury.

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