Peripheral neuropathy symptoms

Diabetes can lead to a wide range of complications, conditions, and problems. One of the most common is peripheral neuropathy — a slow-developing condition that causes nerve damage, especially in the feet, hands, arms, and legs. If left unchecked, neuropathy can severely and negatively impact a person's mobility, health, and lifestyle.

Roughly 40% of all people with diabetes will develop some type of neuropathy during their life — but that doesn't mean you can't take steps now to help mitigate symptoms or prevent neuropathy entirely. Understanding the early symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can help improve your outcome.

But what are the signs of peripheral neuropathy? How do you learn to recognize them to get treatment at the right time? Here's what you need to know about spotting peripheral neuropathy symptoms.

Peripheral neuropathy symptoms

Peripheral neuropathy involves a variety of symptoms that differ based on the specific type of neuropathy and the areas of the body it impacts. These symptoms can manifest in mild forms, such as tingling or numbness in particular body parts, or evolve into more severe conditions, including intense burning sensations or even paralysis. Following is the list of peripheral neuropathy symptoms to look for:

Muscle Weakness: This refers to a reduction in the strength of muscles, making everyday activities difficult.

Cramps: These are sudden, involuntary muscle contractions that are often painful, indicating nerve distress.

Muscle Twitching: Uncontrollable, minor muscle contractions or spasms can be an early sign of nerve damage.

Loss of Muscle and Bone: This symptom indicates a more advanced stage of neuropathy where muscle tissue and bone density decrease, leading to structural changes in the body.

Changes in Skin, Hair, or Nails: Nerve damage can affect the health and appearance of skin, hair, and nails, making them brittle or altering their condition.

Numbness: A lack of sensation in certain body parts, which can lead to unawareness of injuries or infections in those areas.

Loss of Sensation or Feeling: Similar to numbness, this refers to an inability to feel touch, temperature, or pain, potentially leading to harm.

Loss of Balance or Other Functions: This is often due to the loss of proprioception (spatial body awareness) in limbs, affecting mobility and coordination.

Emotional Disturbances: The impact of chronic pain and loss of function can lead to feelings of frustration, depression, or anxiety.

Sleep Disruptions: Pain and discomfort from neuropathy can interfere with regular sleep patterns, leading to insomnia or disturbed sleep.

Loss of Pain or Sensation That Can Put You at Risk: This can be particularly dangerous as it might prevent recognition of serious conditions like heart attacks or infections.

Inability to Sweat Properly: Nerve damage can disrupt normal sweating, leading to difficulty regulating temperature.

Loss of Bladder Control: This can result in urinary tract infections or incontinence due to compromised nerves controlling bladder function.

Dizziness, Lightheadedness, or Fainting: These symptoms can occur because of impaired nerve control over blood pressure.

Digestive Issues: Nerve damage can lead to problems like diarrhea, constipation, or incontinence, reflecting the nerves' role in gastrointestinal function.

Trouble Eating or Swallowing: This can result from nerve damage affecting the muscles responsible for these actions.

Life-threatening Symptoms: In severe cases, peripheral neuropathy can compromise vital functions, like breathing or heart rhythm, necessitating immediate medical attention.

It's crucial to understand that the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can resemble those of other medical conditions. Therefore, a proper diagnosis from a healthcare provider is essential for appropriate management and treatment.

Late-stage signs of peripheral neuropathy

There are more than 100 types of peripheral neuropathy. They can affect everything from the motor nerves that control your movements to the autonomic nerves that control things like breathing and sweating. This means that only some people with peripheral neuropathy will experience the same symptoms. 

Your peripheral neuropathy symptoms will vary depending on what nerves have been damaged, how long you've had the condition, and how much damage the nerves have sustained. Some people have very mild and infrequent symptoms or go weeks or months in between bouts of symptoms. For others, though, symptoms may be intense and consistent.

It's important to take any sign of peripheral neuropathy very seriously. If you notice any of the above symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. Catching this condition early on can help prevent serious nerve damage and its adverse outcomes.

Unfortunately, sometimes peripheral neuropathy isn't identified or diagnosed until it's already progressed very far. Once peripheral neuropathy has set in, you may notice signs such as:

  • An increase in frequency or intensity of the above symptoms.
  • Intense daily pain that can only be controlled with prescribed medications.
  • A total loss of pain and sensation in certain areas of the body, especially the feet and legs.

While the absence of pain may not seem like a serious issue, it is one of the most dangerous stages of peripheral neuropathy. A loss of sensation means that peripheral neuropathy has progressed to the point where your nerves are no longer just damaged; they are dead. This can put you at risk for future complications such as falls, injuries, and more. See a doctor immediately if you notice a loss of pain or sensation in your limbs or any part of your body.

Peripheral neuropathy risk factors

Peripheral neuropathy has a variety of causes. That said, some conditions or events can put you at greater risk of developing neuropathy. These include:

  • Diabetes — Neuropathy is one of the most common complications of diabetes. The most common areas affected by diabetic neuropathy are the legs and feet.
  • Substance abuse Smoking, alcohol, and any toxic substance can damage blood vessels and nerves, leading to neuropathy.
  • Autoimmune diseases — Certain diseases such as Guillain-Barré syndrome or celiac disease lead the body to attack nerve tissues and can result in damage to peripheral nerves.
  • Physical trauma — Accidents, injuries, and even surgeries can lead to peripheral neuropathy if a nerve becomes damaged during the event.
  • Infections — Some infections, such as West Nile Virus, Lyme disease, and HIV/AIDS, are associated with an increased risk of neuropathy.

Of course, other things can cause neuropathy, including genetic mutations, medications, and even vitamin deficiencies. Any of these can make a person more susceptible to developing neuropathy, which means it is essential to treat them as early warning signs of potential neuropathy.

Understanding your risk of developing the disease is one of the first and most important things you can do to protect your health. If you think that you're at risk of peripheral neuropathy, be sure to speak to your doctor about ways you can prevent it.

Peripheral neuropathy

Combating peripheral neuropathy: treatments for a better quality of life

Education is one of the best ways to protect yourself from peripheral neuropathy, but it isn't the only way. Early identification of this condition can help limit and reverse neuropathy damage. However, even if you've been diagnosed with neuropathy for a while, there are still things you can do to help with pain management and prevent things from getting worse.

For example, you can:

  • Receive annual check-ups, especially for your feet (where peripheral neuropathy is most likely to appear).
  • Follow your doctor's recommendations regarding medications. These can include mexiletine, originally designed to treat irregular heartbeat; anticonvulsants like gabapentin, phenytoin, and carbamazepine; as well as specific antidepressants, for instance, tricyclics such as amitriptyline.
  • Pain management involves the use of lidocaine, administered through injections or patches. Moreover, for severe neuropathic pain and symptoms, surgical interventions can either alleviate nerve pain or rectify injuries contributing to the neuropathy.
  • Make any necessary lifestyle changes that will help manage your condition. Improving your diet, exercise routine, and overall health can positively impact your life.
  • Speak to your doctor about mechanical aids such as compression socks, braces, and more. These aids can help provide support and comfort to combat diabetic neuropathy.

Viasox — fancy diabetic socks to aid in peripheral neuropathy pain management

For many people living with diabetic neuropathy, foot pain is a common fact of daily life. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to help manage this pain so you can still do what you enjoy.

Viasox is proud to offer the world's first fancy diabetic socks in North America. Our non-binding diabetic socks are ultra-stretchy, aid in free circulation and help protect the sensitive feet and calves. Our compression socks deliver 12-15 mmHg graduated pressure to help reduce swelling and numbness in your feet while improving blood flow and providing foot protection.

Our stretchy diabetic socks and compression socks are available online in various colors and patterns. Shop our collections today to add this must-have tool to your peripheral neuropathy pain management plan.

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