How to Delay Diabetic Nerve Damage

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Preventing diabetic nerve damage—or diabetic neuropathy—needs to start early. This damage develops over many years and it can start before you have any symptoms. It might even start before you know you have diabetes.

High blood sugar causes diabetic neuropathy. So, the key to diabetic neuropathy prevention is working with your doctor to get your blood sugar in a normal range. Then you need to keep it there.

Diabetic neuropathy is most common in people who have had diabetes for more than 25 years. The longer you have had it and the older you are, the more likely it is that you will develop this nerve damage. You also have a higher risk if you smoke, are overweight, have high blood pressure, or have high levels of certain fats—or lipids—in your blood.

Once you experience nerve damage, diabetic neuropathy treatment may help relieve symptoms. However, following these tips may help you delay diabetic nerve damage in the first place.

Control your blood sugar.

Getting control of your blood sugar as soon as possible is the best way to delay or prevent nerve damage from diabetes. Your doctor will help you find a target range for your blood sugar. Treatment options to help you reach this goal include diet, exercise, oral medicines, and insulin or non-insulin injections. The treatment you start with may need to change over time. Your doctor will help you find the treatment that works best for you.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Carefully follow your doctor's directions for checking your blood sugar.

  • Get an A1C blood test at least twice every year. Your doctor might want you to have this test more often. The test shows your average blood sugar over 2 to 3 months.

  • Let your doctor know if you are having trouble staying in your target range.

  • Let your doctor know if you have any diabetic neuropathy symptoms. The first symptoms are usually numbness, loss of feeling, tingling, or pain in your feet.

Protect your feet.

The nerves to your feet are the longest ones in your body. Loss of feeling in your feet may be the first sign of nerve damage. This symptom can mean you won't feel a minor cut or blister. These breaks in the skin on your feet can lead to serious infections. Careful foot care may prevent these infections. Here's what you can do:

  • Clean your feet every day with mild soap and warm water. Avoid hot water and long soaks.

  • After cleaning, dry your feet carefully with a clean towel.

  • Check your feet for any redness, cracks, sores or blisters. Check between your toes and check the bottoms of your feet. Use a mirror if you need it. Use your hands to feel for rough areas. Check for areas that seem cold or warm. Let your doctor know if you find anything.

  • If your feet are dry, use a moisturizer. Do not leave any moisturizer between your toes.

  • Gently file down any corns or calluses. Keep your toenails cut so there are no rough or sharp edges. If you have trouble taking care of your nails, calluses or corns, see a foot doctor.

  • Wear socks that are absorbent and protect your feet. Make sure they are not too tight.

  • Wear slippers around the house.

  • Wear shoes that give your feet enough room and support. Before putting on your shoes, check inside for pebbles, rough edges, or defects.

  • Do not go barefoot, even indoors.

  • Have your doctor check your feet during routine visits. Ask your doctor if you should see a foot doctor.

Make lifestyle changes.

A healthy lifestyle may help delay diabetic nerve damage. This means sticking to your diabetes diet plan. Avoid saturated fats. Limit your calories enough to keep your weight at a healthy level. It also means exercise. Ask your doctor what type of exercise is safe for you. Do not smoke. If you need help quitting, ask your doctor for help. Ask your doctor if you can drink alcohol. If you drink, do so in moderation—no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jun 12
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Diabetic Neuropathy: A Position Statement by the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care.
  2. Nerve Damage (Diabetic Neuropathies). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
  3. Steps to Prevent or Delay Nerve Damage. American Diabetes Association.