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How Does Diabetes Affect Nerves?

Clip Number: 14 of 14
Presentation: Diabetes
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Reviewed By: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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Diabetes can affect many parts of your body, including your nerves.
Your body contains a large network of nerves, which carry electric signals to and from your brain. The signals going from your body TO the brain bring information about the outside world. As your brain processes this information, it allows you to see, to feel different sensations, and to hear, smell, and taste.
The signals going FROM the brain control your muscles so you can move around, talk, and keep your balance.
Normally, blood vessels supply nerves with the oxygen and nutrients that they need to work properly. But with diabetes, high blood sugar levels can harm these small blood vessels. As a result, less blood, oxygen, and nutrients reach the nerves, and they start becoming damaged as well. This is known as a "neuropathy."
Diabetic neuropathy can affect any nerve in the body. The symptoms will depend on which nerves are affected. Some problems in your nerves can make you feel like they are burning or tingling, or even numb. You might notice pain in your arms, legs, or hands as well. Nerve problems can also make it difficult for you to go to the bathroom, eat, or have sex. In cases of severe nerve damage, some people need to have their hands or feet removed.
Damage to the nerves happens slowly. Most people don't know that they have nerve problems until many years after they've begun.
But, just like other complications, you can reduce your risk of developing nerve problems by taking control of your diabetes and caring for your body. Bringing blood sugar levels under control by diet, medication, and lifestyle changes, along with good foot care are essential.
These changes are just as important for people already with diabetic neuropathy because they can prevent or delay further damage.
Other treatments will depend on the type of neuropathy and the symptoms you are experiencing. So be sure to ask your healthcare provider what things YOU can do to improve your condition and protect your nerves.

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