Signs of Peripheral Neuropathy

Signs of Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy affects about 20 million people in the United States and is a frequent complication of diabetes. Early detection and treatment may help you avoid some of its more severe effects. Unfortunately, the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy are often overlooked or mistaken for another illness.

Our team at Premier Vascular in Yonkers and Jackson Heights, New York, led by Dr. Nirav Patel, shares information about peripheral neuropathy and what the symptoms might mean about your diabetes management.

Understanding peripheral neuropathy

The peripheral nervous system includes all the nerves outside your brain and spinal cord (central nervous system).

There are three types of peripheral nerves:

Traumatic injury, viral or bacterial infections, and various metabolic disorders can damage peripheral nerves, resulting in neuropathy.

The most frequent cause of peripheral neuropathy in the United States is persistently elevated blood sugar levels related to poorly controlled diabetes.

Common signs of peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy signs vary depending on which nerves are affected and how extensive the damage is. 

Your symptoms may include unusual sensations, pain, wounds that don’t heal, and muscle problems. Let’s talk about these in a bit more detail. 

Altered sensation in the feet or hands

Sensory nerves just under the skin carry signals to your brain regarding sensations such as heat and cold, rough or smooth textures, vibration, and pain.

Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy typically start in your hands or feet and spread upward over time. For example, you may feel tingling numbness in your hands or as if you’re walking on sponges. People also report the sensation of wearing socks or gloves when they aren’t.

Conversely, peripheral neuropathy can also cause pain with even the slightest touch to the skin or when planting your feet on the floor to stand.

The symptoms are typically subtle initially but become persistent and worsen as neuropathy advances. The lack of sensation can eventually make it impossible to sense a cut, blister, or callus on the soles of your feet. 

Your inability to sense where your feet are as you walk (proprioception) can also affect your balance and coordination.

Sharp or burning pain

Peripheral neuropathy often causes stabbing pain or electric-shock sensations in your legs and feet that may occur periodically or frequently throughout the day. It may be severe enough to wake you from sleep.

You may also feel a painfully cold or burning sensation in your feet or hands, much like you would experience during the early stages of frostbite. 

Motor nerve symptoms

Symptoms of neuropathy affecting the nerves that control your muscles may include:

Peripheral neuropathy can also cause foot drop, which occurs when you have difficulty lifting the front part of your foot and toes when walking due to muscle weakness.

Chronic wounds

Peripheral neuropathy is a common cause of diabetic foot pain and often influences the development or healing rate of diabetic foot ulcers and other chronic wounds. 

For example, decreased sensation in your feet related to peripheral neuropathy may mean you aren’t aware of pressure caused by ill-fitting shoes that can eventually develop into an open sore. 

Healthy nerves are also essential to your body's ability to repair and rebuild damaged skin tissue. Slow-healing wounds may be a sign of nerve damage related to peripheral neuropathy. 

Treating diabetic neuropathy

Peripheral nerve fibers can heal, but regrowth is extremely slow. Thus, the most effective solution is to manage your diabetes so that your blood sugar levels remain within acceptable limits.

Otherwise, treatments may include chronic pain management with oral or topical medications, physical therapy, and changes in diet that promote nerve health. 

Dr. Patel also offers advanced wound care to address diabetic foot ulcers and circulatory problems such as peripheral arterial disease (PAD) that may worsen the effects of diabetic neuropathy. 

If you have diabetes and struggle with foot pain or other symptoms, schedule an evaluation at Premier Vascular today. Call our office or request an appointment online. 

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