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Diabetes and Nerve Damage

Medical expert Dr. Mohan S. Palaniswami answers common questions about diabetes:

Q: What are the effects on the nerves that diabetes can have?

Q: What are the effects on the nerves that diabetes can have?

A: It is very important to know that diabetes can damage the response of nerves in your body. Nerves can be sensory (helping us to sense things) or motor (helping our muscles to move and work). Nerve disease due to diabetes, or diabetic neuropathy, typically causes decreased sensation. This decrease in sensation usually begins "peripherally," or in the furthest parts of your body where your nerves and blood vessels go. Therefore, many people first notice the nerve damage at the tips of their toes or their fingers. The damage progresses upward from there.

This can be dangerous if you are not able to sense pain, heat, cold, etc. Your feet become more susceptible to injury, burns, calluses or sores that you may not notice. It is very important that you check your feet every day for injury.

Doctors will pay close attention to this type of nerve disease in people with diabetes and will sometimes recommend special equipment to protect your body.

Diabetes can also cause damage to the nerves that control things like your heart rate, blood pressure and digestion. These nerves are part of your "autonomic nervous system." Symptoms of damage to these nerves include dizziness, vomiting, constipation and impotence. (Note: Other things can also cause these symptoms.) The best way to reduce your risk of nerve disease and injury is by controlling your blood sugar and by being aware of your body.