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According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 29 million Americans have diabetes and another 1.4 million cases are diagnosed each year. More than 73,000 amputations were performed in 2010 due to diabetes complications.

However, it is estimated that up 85% of all amputations due to diabetes can be prevented through regular inspection of the diabetic foot.

One of the most common complications of diabetes that could lead to amputation is peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral nerves carry information from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body. Peripheral neuropathy occurs when these nerves are damaged or diseased, causing weakness and making it difficult to control muscles typically in your hands, legs and feet. Chronically high blood sugar levels are a cause of peripheral nerve damage.

As it relates to the feet, peripheral neuropathy affects two sides of the nervous system – sensory and autonomic. On the sensory side, a patient may experience loss of feeling which can lead to ulcerations, sores and debilitating pain. On the autonomic side, it can cause calcification of arterial vessels and may lead to peripheral vascular disease, which involves a vascular surgeon.

Between 60 and 70 percent of all people with diabetes will eventually develop peripheral neuropathy; however, the condition is not inevitable.

The best way to prevent peripheral neuropathy is keeping your diabetes under control. It also can be prevented by routine diabetic checkups.

What does peripheral neuropathy feel like in the feet?

In the beginning stages of peripheral neuropathy, a patient may feel like they have an extra sock on or experience restless leg syndrome. Some people may feel like they can’t stretch their feet or their feet may feel really tight even though they aren’t.

Symptoms increase in severity to sharp, stabbing pains and a burning sensation in the feet. Sometimes, a patient may feel like they have ants crawling up and down their feet even though there’s nothing there.

Some diabetics may not feel heat, cold or pain in their feet, which could lead to ulcers and sores and, if untreated, potentially lead to amputation. That’s why it’s important for diabetics to check their feet daily and have routine visits with their podiatrist.

Podiatrists routinely see diabetes patients to try to prevent or help treat peripheral neuropathy.

There is no cure for peripheral neuropathy but you can treat the symptoms through medication, proper shoe wear, inserts, physical therapy and most importantly maintain your diabetes properly.

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