Diabetes & Nerve Damage

Nerve damage


Nerve damage due to diabetes is known as diabetic neuropathy. High levels of blood sugar can cause injuries to the nerve fibers in the entire body; however it usually targets the nerves in the feet and legs. Although diabetic neuropathy is very commonly found and quite serious, it can be managed or even prevented through strict blood sugar control and healthy lifestyle choices.


Symptoms can include anything from pain or numbness in your limbs to complications concerning your digestive system, urinary tract, blood vessels and heart. Some people only experience mild levels of these symptoms, whereas for other people diabetic neuropathy causes severe pain, disability or in some cases even death. 

Four main types of diabetic neuropathy can be identified. A person may clearly suffer from one specific type, or experience symptoms of different types at the same time.

Symptoms can often only be recognised after significant damage has been done to the nerves, as most symptoms form gradually.

Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy vary, depending on the type of neuropathy and the nerves that are affected.

  • Peripheral neuropathy:

It is the most common form of diabetic neuropathy. It usually affects the feet and legs first, and then moves onto the arms and hands.  

  • Autonomic neuropathy

It affects the autonomic nervous system, which controls the sex organs, heart, lungs, bladder, intestines, stomach and eyes.

  • Radiculoplexus neuropathy

It does not affect the ends of nerves like peripheral neuropathy, but rather the nerves in the thighs, hips, buttocks or legs.

It is also known as: diabetic amyotrophy, femoral neuropathy, or proximal neuropathy. This condition is more common among older people and people with type 2 diabetes.

Most often it is found that symptoms only appear on one side of the body, though in some cases they may affect both sides. Symptoms usually clear up at least partially over time, though symptoms often worsen before they get better.

  • Mononeuropathy (focal neuropathy)

This refers to damage to a specific nerve. It often affects a nerve in the face, torso or one of the legs. Mononeuropathy can often appear very suddenly.

It is usually found in older adults. Mononeuropahty does not usually cause any long-term problems, but it can cause severe pain.

Symptoms usually go away after a few weeks or months.


Damage to nerves and blood vessels

Prolonged exposure to high blood sugar damages delicate nerve fibers, resulting in diabetic neuropathy. It is not yet completely known why this happens, but a combination of different factors likely plays a role. One of these factors is the interaction between nerves and blood vessels.

High blood sugar levels hinder with the nerves’ ability to transmit signals. It also weakens the walls of the small blood vessels that bring oxygen and nutrients to the nerves.

Other factors

Other factors that promote diabetic neuropathy include:

  • Inflammation in the nerves caused due to an autoimmune response: The immune system sees part of the body as a foreign organism and attacks it.
  • Genetic factors: Genetic factors other than diabetes, which leaves some people more vulnerable to nerve damage.
  • Smoking and/or alcohol abuse: Damages both nerves and blood vessels. It also increases the risk of infections considerably.

Risk Factors

Anyone who has diabetes is susceptible to neuropathy, but these factors cause an even higher risk of nerve damage:

  • Poor blood sugar control: This is what causes most problems related to diabetes. The best way to ensure healthy nerves and blood vessels is by constantly maintaining the right blood sugar levels.
  • Length of time you have diabetes: The longer you have suffered from diabetes, the more susceptible you are to nerve damage.
  • Kidney disease: Diabetes can damage the kidneys, which could increase the toxins in the blood and promote nerve damage.
  • Smoking: Smoking hardens and narrows the arteries, hindering the blood flow to the legs and feet. This causes difficulty in the body’s capability of healing wounds and weakens the peripheral nerves. 


Diabetic neuropathy can result in serious complications, such as:

Loss of a limb: Due to the lack of feeling in the limbs caused by nerve damage, cuts or sores are often not noticed and if they are not treated, they can result in severe infection. Sometimes these infections spread to such an extent that the limb has to be amputated.

Charcot joint: This is when a joint completely deteriorates due to nerve damage. It usually occurs in a foot. Charcot joint can be identified by: loss of feeling, swelling, instability and sometimes deformity in the joint itself.

Urinary tract infections and urinary incontinence: When the nerves that control the bladder are damaged, it can result in the bladder not being able to be emptied completely. This can cause bacteria to multiply rapidly in the bladder and kidneys, causing urinary tract infections. Neuropathy can also affect the person’s ability to notice when they need to urinate.

Hypoglycemia unawareness: Usually when your blood sugar drops too low (below 3.9 millimoles per liter) you experience symptoms such as shakiness, sweating and an increased heartbeat. Autonomic neuropathy can cause a decrease in the ability to notice these symptoms. It is a very serious issue as untreated hypoglycemia can result in death.

Low blood pressure: When the nerves that control blood circulation are damaged, it can hamper the body’s ability to adjust blood pressure. This can cause an instantaneous decline in pressure when you stand up from a chair which, may lead to dizziness and/or fainting.

Digestive problems: Damaged nerves in the digestive system can result in a range of problems such as severe constipation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, feeling bloated and loss of appetite. It also causes a very serious digestive problem, gastroparesis. This is a condition where the stomach empties too slowly or does not empty at all.

Sexual dysfunction: Autonomic neuropathy often causes damage to the nerves that affect the sex organs. This can lead to erectile dysfunction in men and difficulties with lubrication and arousal in women.

Increased or decreased sweating: If the sweat glands do not function properly, it affects the body’s ability to regulate temperature. A reduce in or the complete absence of perspiration can be life-threatening. Autonomic neuropathy can also result in the polar opposite, which is excessive sweating, especially at night.

Social isolation: People, particularly older people, that suffer from nerve damage can become very independent due to the pain and disability it causes. This can result in them becoming increasingly isolated and depressed. 


If you already experience these symptoms, it is crucial to consult your health care provider /doctor.

It is critical that you do everything possible from your side to control blood sugar levels with:

  • Diet – eliminate all foods which can cause a rise in blood sugar levels. Follow a practical diet, like the Manna Diet for a low GI program which can help to keep blood sugar levels under control.
  • Exercise – physical exercise is very important for healthy blood flow and it helps burn excess sugar in the blood.
  • Sleep – sufficient, quality sleep (7-8 hours per night) is equally important, as this is when your body repairs itself.
  • Water – it should become a habit to drink water daily, because your body needs water, NOT soft drinks and coffee, to keep hydrated. Drink at least 1.5 litres of water per day.
  • Supplements – A supplement like the Manna Blood Sugar Support is as important as diet and exercise. This supplement reduce the GI of all the food you eat by up to 43%, helping to keep blood sugar levels stable in the most natural way. You may also want to include the Manna Blood Circulation Support to help increase blood flow to the extremities.

(source: www.mayoclinic.com)

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