People with diabetes may have to deal with a variety of complications. Neuropathy is one and it can be painful. In fact, chronic painful neuropathy is thought to affect up to 26% of people with diabetes.
Put simply, neuropathy is nerve damage. Nerves carry messages between the brain and every part of our body, making it possible to see, hear, feel, and move. For some people with diabetes, high blood glucose levels and high blood pressure can damage small blood vessels, which deliver essential nutrients to the nerves. Without the nutrients, nerves can't survive. So it's really important to keep blood glucose levels and blood pressure under control, to help keep neuropathy and other diabetes complications at bay.
There are different types of neuropathy and they may affect up to 50% of people with diabetes. Since nerves are everywhere in our body, different parts and functions of our body may get damaged. But feet are the most susceptible.
Even though neuropathy can be painful, the dangers don't lie within the pain. It's exactly the opposite: loss of pain, loss of ability to feel temperature and loss of sensation is what makes it potentially dangerous. With loss of sensation, minor injuries may stay unnoticed, leading to much more serious problems, like infections and ulcers. If they don't heal properly, amputation may be the only option left.
Janet Richards, who lost her leg to diabetes, shared her story on our website: “I developed an ingrown toenail. Traces of neuropathy (loss of feeling) had not been properly highlighted in my hospital file, so when the podiatrist dealt with my toenail, I developed gangrene. I had no idea what was happening to me."
At Diabetes UK, we put people first and we're trying to find ways to improve quality of life for people with diabetes.
Science hasn't advanced far enough to restore loss of feeling in neuropathy yet, but we're funding Dr Neil Reeves at the University of Manchester to try something different. He's working an innovative 'biofeedback' system, which is actually a special insole for shoes. It can measure how much pressure you place on different areas of your feet and sends that information to a mobile phone.
This system doesn't bring back lost sensation, but it aims to give the same information as pain would, just on the screen of your mobile phone. By helping people shift their weight away from troublesome pressure points, we hope that this system could reduce the recurrence of foot ulcers in people with diabetes. And in turn the number of amputations.
There are more than 140 leg, foot or toe amputations each week as a result of complications from diabetes. This is shocking, especially as four out of five of these amputations can be prevented. We want to bring an end to the thousands of potentially preventable amputations affecting people with diabetes and neuropathy. Our Putting Feet First Campaign is raising awareness about diabetes-related amputations and working to improve healthcare.
Janet is supporting the Putting Feet First Campaign to make sure no one has to share her experience of losing their leg: “This campaign is a meaningful way of getting the right message across about the importance of foot care. It is important to raise awareness not only through healthcare professionals, but through people with diabetes who have real, first-hand experience of amputations."
It doesn't matter if you have diabetes or not, we want you to help us spread the message. Everyone needs to know: if you have diabetes, you have to put your feet first and we're here to help you.
Pain can be unpleasant, but living without it is dangerous too. That's why, through research and our campaigns, we're working to help people manage their neuropathy better.
Thank you to Dr Kotryna Temcinaite, Research Communications Officer at Diabetes UK, for this weeks blog. You can find out more about Diabetes UK and their work by visiting their website - www.diabetes.org.uk