Patients’ Guide to Diabetic Neuropathy

Diabetic Neuropathy Overview

What Is Diabetic Nerve Pain?

Diabetic neuropathy, also called diabetic nerve pain, is nerve damage caused by diabetes. Neuro- means nerves; -pathy means disease or suffering.

Diabetic neuropathy is a complication of diabetes that can develop over time. It’s more common in people who have had diabetes for a long time—25 years or longer—but it is possible to develop this nerve pain at any time. People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes can have neuropathy.

The precise cause of diabetic neuropathy isn’t fully understood, but researchers believe that it’s related to high blood glucose (blood sugar) levels in the body. Therefore, people who struggle to control their blood glucose levels are more likely to develop nerve pain. You’ll learn more about blood glucose and neuropathy in the article on diabetic neuropathy causes.

Nerve pain is actually very common in people with diabetes, and it is often under recognized. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, around 60-70% of people with diabetes develop some type of nerve pain. It usually starts as pain, tingling, or numbness in the extremities—in the feet, legs, hands, and arms. When nerve pain starts suddenly and affects a single part of the body (eg, a hand or a nerve in the face), it often improves completely with time; however, more commonly neuropathy causes persistent symptoms.

Neuropathy can affect organ systems as well (eg, the heart or the digestive system). For more information, please read the diabetic neuropathy symptoms  article.

By controlling your blood sugar levels—through diet, medication, and exercise—you may be able to prevent diabetic neuropathy. If you’ve already developed it, there are steps you can take to prevent more nerve damage.