How Does Diabetes Cause Numbness in Your Toes and Feet?

In this article, we will discuss the causes of diabetic neuropathy, the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, and how it is…(continue reading)

If you have diabetes, you may have noticed numbness in your toes and feet which is caused by diabetic neuropathy, a type of nerve damage that is associated with diabetes.

Diabetic neuropathy can lead to serious medical conditions if untreated such as sexual dysfunction and even limb amputation which makes it important to get an early diagnosis and start treatment.

In this article, we will discuss the causes of diabetic neuropathy, the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, and how it is treated as well as tips to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition where your body cannot properly regulate blood sugar levels due to several different factors that vary according to your type of diabetes.

The three common types of diabetes that cover the vast majority of diagnoses include type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes.

If you have type 1 diabetes, your pancreas has stopped producing the hormone insulin which is used to help your cells convert blood sugar, also called glucose, into energy.

Type 2 diabetes is when your cells become insulin resistant, meaning they are less sensitive to insulin and do not always use it properly to convert glucose into energy which can produce high blood glucose levels.

Gestational diabetes is when you experience high blood sugar levels during pregnancy and it usually goes away after your baby is born.

Left untreated, diabetes can lead to a variety of symptoms and health complications including heart disease, stroke, and diabetic neuropathy, which is a type of nerve damage that can cause numbness in your toes and feet.

What is diabetic neuropathy?

Diabetic neuropathy occurs when diabetes damages your peripheral nerves outside of your brain and spine, and it is the most common type of nerve damage that can occur if you are diabetic, usually affecting your legs and feet first.

However, it can also affect other parts of your body like your arms, hands, stomach, intestines, and heart.

There are four main types of diabetic neuropathy and you can have more than one at the same time.

The four types of diabetic neuropathy include:

Peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy, also called distal symmetric peripheral neuropathy, is the most common type of diabetic neuropathy.

It usually affects your legs and feet first but can also affect your arms and hands.

Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness in your extremities.

Autonomic neuropathy

Autonomic neuropathy, also called autonomic diabetic neuropathy, affects the autonomic nerves that control involuntary body functions like blood pressure, heart rate, sweating, digestion, and bladder function.

Symptoms of autonomic neuropathy include orthostatic hypotension (a sudden drop in blood pressure when you stand up), constipation or diarrhea, trouble urinating, and sexual dysfunction in both men and women.

Focal neuropathy (mononeuropathy)

When you have focal neuropathy it means you have damage to a single nerve or a group of nerves.

The most common type of focal neuropathy is called carpal tunnel syndrome which causes numbness and pain in your hand and fingers.

Other common symptoms include double vision, paralysis on one side of your face, weakness, and double vision.

Proximal neuropathy (diabetic polyradiculopathy)

If you have the type of nerve damage that affects the nerves in your thighs, hips, or buttocks then you may have proximal neuropathy.

Symptoms include muscle weakness in your legs and pain in your hips and thighs.

Foot numbness with Diabetes

What causes diabetic neuropathy?

It is unknown what causes neuropathy if you are diabetic, however, it is thought to be related to high blood sugar levels damaging the nerves over time.

Poor blood sugar control can damage your nerves by making them swell which can lead to numbness and pain.

Your blood vessels may also be damaged due to neuropathy which can lead to poor blood flow that does not allow for oxygen and nutrients to be distributed by your blood to the affected areas.

Are there any risk factors for diabetic neuropathy?

There are several risk factors for developing diabetic neuropathy which include:

If you have any of the above risk factors and are diabetic, it is important to speak with your doctor or health care provider so they can help you manage them and prevent neuropathy from occurring.

Many of the risk factors can be controlled with lifestyle changes which we will detail below.

What are the complications of diabetic neuropathy?

If you have diabetic neuropathy, you may be at an increased risk for developing other serious health conditions like:

  • Falls and fractures due to numbness in your feet or legs and loss of coordination 
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Amputation due to infection
  • Joint damage
  • Sexual dysfunction including erectile dysfunction in men and vaginal dryness in women
  • Increased sweating
  • Decreased sweating
  • Digestive problems that include both diarrhea and constipation
  • An increase in urinary tract infections due to the loss of feeling in your bladder and being unable to tell when it is empty
  • Foot deformities due to the inability to feel pain such as Charcot foot
  • Dry skin
  • Increased risk of foot ulcers
  • Poor blood circulation

These complications will vary depending on the type or types of diabetic neuropathy you have and it is important to speak with your health care provider so they can help you manage your symptoms and prevent complications from occurring.

How is diabetic neuropathy treated?

There is no cure for diabetic neuropathy, however, there are treatments that can help relieve symptoms and prevent further damage from occurring.

The best way to stop diabetic neuropathy from progressing is to constantly monitor and manage your blood sugar levels.

Doing this will give your body the best chance of halting the progression of neuropathy and may even relieve some of your symptoms. Other treatments options include:

Medications

There are a few different types of medications that may be prescribed by your doctor for diabetic neuropathy including antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, and pain medications.

Some antidepressants can help with neuropathy by relieving nerve pain even if you are not depressed and anti-seizure drugs can also help with it even if you are not experiencing any seizures.

Opioid pain medications may also be used to help with any pain although they remain a short-term solution as they can be very addictive over time.

Physical therapy

Certain exercises and physical activities that are low impact like swimming may help to ease some of the pain you are experiencing.

Physical therapy can also help to improve your range of motion and flexibility as well as strengthen the muscles that support your joints.

Are there any ways to prevent diabetic neuropathy?

Besides managing and controlling your blood glucose levels, there are options available that may help you prevent diabetic neuropathy.

While there is no cure for diabetic neuropathy, with proper treatment and management, you can help relieve your symptoms and prevent any further damage. T

he most common prevention methods are:

Lifestyle changes

Some lifestyle changes can help improve your blood sugar levels and help you control your diabetes. These include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and quitting smoking.

Controlling your blood pressure

High blood pressure can put you at a greater risk of complications from diabetes and diabetic neuropathy which makes it important to monitor it along with your blood sugar levels.

Any of the aforementioned lifestyle changes will also help with controlling your blood pressure and help prevent a variety of other conditions although your doctor may also prescribe a medication to lower your blood pressure too.

Proper hand and foot care

Diabetic neuropathy usually affects your hands and feet the most so it is important to care for them to help avoid any complications.

To do this you need to check your hands and feet daily for any cuts, redness, blisters, soreness, signs of infection, or other signs of damage.

You also need to practice proper hand and foot hygiene by cleaning and drying them every day and using a daily moisturizer to keep them healthy.

Always be sure to wear clean, dry socks and trim your nails correctly to avoid cuts and complications.

Lastly, wear shoes and gloves that fit properly and never go barefoot to help protect your feet from injury.

Summary

Diabetic neuropathy is a serious complication of diabetes that can cause numbness and pain in your hands and feet.

There is no cure for diabetic neuropathy, however, there are treatments that can help relieve symptoms and prevent further damage from occurring.

The best way to stop diabetic neuropathy from progressing is to constantly monitor and manage your blood sugar levels. Other treatment options include medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes.

With proper treatment and management, you can help relieve your symptoms, prevent any further damage, and ensure proper nerve function before you have permanent nerve damage.

If you have any questions regarding diabetic neuropathy, please talk to your doctor or health care provider.

References and sources:

Heathline

WebMD

Everyday Health 

Diabetes.org 

Mayo Clinic 

NIH

Fact Checked and Editorial Process

Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Jacqueline Hensler and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera. 

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