As a medical professional, you see diabetic patients daily. Whether you’re a pharmacist filling their various inhibitor prescriptions or a chiropractor addressing other issues. No matter where your patients are on their diabetic journey, they need to know what peripheral neuropathy is and how to detect its symptoms. They also need the knowledge to manage it effectively. While stats vary, approximately 50 percent of diabetic patients will suffer from nerve damage at some point.
The longer an individual has diabetes, the greater their chances of developing this complication. Peripheral neuropathy contributes to various health problems and can significantly impact independence and quality of life. Undiagnosed and untreated, it represents a fast track to infections, amputations, and premature death.
But painful diabetic neuropathy doesn’t have to be inevitable! Here’s what your patients need to know about the symptoms, complications, and management of peripheral neuropathy.
Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy 101
What do your diabetic patients need to know about peripheral neuropathy? Recognizing potential symptoms is key to early intervention. And early intervention can reduce nerve damage, preserve independence, and increase the quality of life for patients (and their caregivers).
There are four different types of nerve damage that diabetic patients may sustain. Depending on which nerves are impacted, patients report varying symptoms. The four types of nerve damage from diabetes are peripheral neuropathy, autonomic neuropathy, proximal neuropathy, and mononeuropathy. This article will focus primarily on peripheral neuropathy.
Diabetic Neuropathy Symptoms
What are the symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy? They include:
Many patients allow symptoms to progress to the point of sleep disturbance. Only then are they ready to admit there’s a problem. But other symptoms, like numbness, can be very dangerous, even though they may not keep a patient up at night.
Complications of Diabetic Neuropathy
What are some of the most common complications of diabetic neuropathy? Numbness in diabetic legs and feet can lead to undetected injuries. Sometimes these wounds refuse to heal. Left untreated, injuries may progress to infections, eventually resulting in loss of toes, feet, or limbs.
Of course, amputation (as with other surgical procedures) ups the risk of further complications. Like surgery-related infections, contraction of an infectious disease from hospital exposure, heightened risk of dementia, and more. And the after-effects involve diminished quality of life and decreased independence. For caregivers, this progression of symptoms can exponentially ramp up their care burden.
But loss of sensation and amputation aren’t the only complications associated with peripheral neuropathy. Among the most insidious issues is hypoglycemia unawareness. Typically, when sugar levels dip too low, patients register tangible symptoms like a rapid heartbeat, sweating, and shakiness. But these symptoms are diminished (or non-existent) in some neuropathy patients.
Diabetic neuropathy can also contribute to digestive problems, leading to indigestion, bloating, and constipation. In this case, the nerve damage impacts the digestive tract. Neuropathy contributes to incontinence and urinary tract infections if nerves in the bladder are damaged. And it can also result in sudden drops in blood pressure, especially when getting up or lying down. These episodes increase the likelihood of lightheadedness and fall risk.
Management of Peripheral Neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy can wreak havoc on a person’s life and place an unbearable weight on their caretaker’s shoulders. That’s why prevention and early treatment are critical. Your patients should know they can prevent or at least delay the onset of diabetic neuropathy. How? It starts with managing blood sugar levels.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends glycated hemoglobin (A1C) tests for diabetic patients at least twice yearly. This test offers a window into average blood sugar levels over two to three months, offering a wealth of information about how effectively diabetes is being managed. Tests should be reviewed with patients to troubleshoot daily management wins and fails. That way, blood sugar level goals are maintained over the long haul. Get the full scoop on managing blood sugar levels to reduce risk of neuropathy.
Foot care is also another vital component of remaining healthy and independent. By checking feet daily for signs of injury (e.g., blisters, bruises, cuts, etc.), diabetic patients can prevent infections leading to amputation. Find out more about proper foot care for diabetics.
Raising Awareness About Peripheral Neuropathy
As a medical professional, you have the unique opportunity to raise public awareness about diabetic peripheral neuropathy, its symptoms, and its management. This underdiagnosed condition impacts tens of millions of Americans annually, leading to preventable conditions, complications, and surgical procedures.
It’s vital that your pharmacy or clinic occupy the frontlines when it comes to diabetic neuropathy and its treatment. We want to partner with your practice to get the word out about the successful management of peripheral neuropathy. Neuropacalm is a cash, at-home neuropathy program, provided to patients solely by medical professionals. Ready to find out more? Contact us today to discuss bringing it to your pharmacy or clinic.