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March 27, 2012 > Nerve Damage - A common problem for people with diabetes

Nerve Damage - A common problem for people with diabetes

Learn how to treat and prevent diabetic neuropathy at upcoming free seminar

More than 25 million Americans, or 8.3 percent of the population, have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Of these, 18.8 million people have been diagnosed with the disease, and an estimated 7 million don't know they have it.

A major problem with diabetes is that it increases your risk for many other serious health problems. One is diabetic neuropathy, or nerve damage caused by uncontrolled blood glucose levels that can occur with diabetes. The ADA reports about 60 percent to 70 percent of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of nervous system damage.

Nerve damage can affect many different body functions and can have different types of symptoms. Early signs of diabetic neuropathy can include tingling, numbness, and dry skin, usually starting in the hands and feet. The symptoms can be more severe at night. Your feet may also feel extremely hot or cold. As the condition progresses, it can become painful.

"Diabetic neuropathy can have a major impact on your quality of life," said Vida Reed, diabetes services program coordinator of the Outpatient Diabetes Center at Washington Hospital in Fremont. "The pain may keep you from getting the rest you need, and your stress level may increase. With one type of the condition, called peripheral neuropathy, a foot wound or infection may go unnoticed. In severe cases, amputation may be required."

You can find out more about diabetic neuropathy, its causes and treatment, at a free "Diabetes Matters" seminar on Thursday, April 5, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Called "Diabetes Neuropathy: Cause, Effect and Treatment," the program will be led by local neurologist Ravinder Kahlon, M.D., who is on the medical staff at Washington Hospital. It will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium of the Washington West building at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. No registration is required. For more information, call (510) 745-6556.

If you have diabetic neuropathy, it is critically important that you take good care of your feet. When there is foot numbness due to nerve damage, you may not notice a sore or ingrown toenail, and this can lead to an infection. In severe cases, amputation of the toes, foot or lower leg may be required. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that, in 2006 (latest figures available), about 65,700 non-injury-related lower-limb amputations were performed in people with diabetes.

"Another challenge with managing nerve-related pain is that each person's pain is unique," said Reed. "So, a treatment that works for one person may not work for someone else. It's important that people collaborate with their doctor to see what is most effective in controlling their pain."

Reed also points out that it is important to remember, even if your pain is being treated, this doesn't address the basic cause of the neuropathy, which is uncontrolled blood glucose. Fortunately, there are things people with diabetes can do to prevent, or slow the progression of neuropathy.

"The best way to prevent or control diabetic neuropathy is to manage your diabetes," stated Reed. "Our Center's certified diabetes educators can help patients learn how to improve their control based on current ADA recommendations."

According to the ADA, effective diabetes management includes:
* Choosing what, how much, and when to eat
* Getting physically active
* Taking medicine (if your doctor prescribes it)
* Checking your blood glucose (if your doctor prescribes it)
* Going to your appointments
* Learning all you can about diabetes

At the Washington Outpatient Diabetes Center, education services are provided by a dedicated team of certified diabetes educators who teach people with diabetes the skills needed to control their disease for a lifetime.

"If you have diabetes and are struggling to get it under control, we have dietitians and nurses who are trained to teach diabetes self-management," said Reed.

She recommended that you consider contacting your doctor about a referral if you have diabetes and have experienced any of the following:
* During a recent hospitalization, your diabetes was not under control
* Your medications have recently been changed
* You want to lose weight
* You are having difficulty maintaining a healthy diet
* You have never seen a certified diabetes educator

Diabetes education is a covered benefit for Medicare and most insurance plans.

Learn more

To learn more about diabetes care and the services at the Washington Outpatient Diabetes Center, go online to or visit the Web site of the American Diabetes Association at

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