Approximately 20 million Americans have some type of peripheral neuropathy, a condition that can often be prevented and managed.
Tingling, numbness, muscle weakness — when these symptoms occur in the foot, they’re often signs of one of more than 100 nerve disorders called neuropathy.
Damage to the peripheral nervous system typically begins in the nerves farthest from the brain and spinal cord. One of the most common causes of neuropathy is uncontrolled diabetes. Other factors that increase the risk for neuropathy include:
- Alcohol abuse
- Smoking cigarettes
- Nutritional deficiency in B1, B12 or iron
- Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus
It’s possible to have neuropathy from diabetes without symptoms or with subtle signs that only a health care professional might notice. Numbness caused by neuropathy may make it difficult to notice cuts or swelling on the feet without routinely checking for them.
For this reason, doctors often tell patients with diabetes to do daily foot exams or, if they can’t, have a primary care provider or podiatrist do them. Unmanaged peripheral neuropathy can spread to the legs, arms and hands.
“Adopting healthier lifestyle habits, such as maintaining optimal weight, exercising daily and eating a balanced diet, can reduce effects of neuropathy,” said Nicole Everman, MD, neurologist with KentuckyOne Health Neurology Associates. “Physical and occupational therapy are also important when treating peripheral neuropathy because they help improve balance and motor strength.”
Other treatment options include oral medications for nerve pain and topical treatments such as capsaicin cream and lidocaine patches. An early diagnosis of neuropathy can help prevent further nerve damage, so people with symptoms should seek medical care.
Keep Your feet in Check
Most of us have heard the saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is especially true when it comes to diabetic neuropathy.
“Studies have shown that those with diabetes can reduce the risk of experiencing nerve damage by keeping blood sugar levels close to normal,” said Dr. Everman. “Peripheral neuropathy can also be a result of vitamin A, vitamin E and vitamin B1 deficiencies, so eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.”
Other prevention methods include:
- Wearing well-fitted shoes
- Inspecting your feet daily for any redness, swelling or wounds
- Visiting your primary care physician or a podiatrist regularly
This story originally appeared in the 2017 Fall edition of One Health Magazine. Sign up for your free subscription.
Not only do primary care doctors specialize in diagnosing and managing a wide range of health issues, they also teach you about prevention and wellness. If you don’t have a primary care provider, find one near you today. To speak with someone about peripheral neuropathy, call KentuckyOne Health Neurology Associates at 859.263.8807.