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Common symptoms are pain and tingling in your arms, legs, hands, or feet

In addition to changes in the blood vessels, the retina of the eye and the kidneys, "diabetic neuropathy" is a serious secondary disease that often occurs in diabetes mellitus. Of the currently around six million people with diabetes in Germany, more than one in three also suffers from a nerve disease. It can affect all organ systems of the body and cause a wide variety of complaints: pain, abnormal sensations such as "tingling" on the skin, calf cramps, muscle weakness or unsteady gait are just a few examples. They can seriously affect the quality of life. Good blood sugar control, avoidance of alcohol and nicotine, reduction of excess weight and annual check-ups are the best preventive measures, according to diabetesDE - German Diabetes Aid.

Nerve damage caused by diabetes usually goes unnoticed for a long time. Around a third of all people with diabetes have nerve damage. "The cause is diabetes that has been poorly controlled for years and has excessively high blood sugar levels," says Professor Dan Ziegler, Chairman of the Diabetes and Nervous System Working Group of the German Diabetes Society (DDG) "Peripheral neuropathy" usually affects the nerves of the feet and legs, but sometimes the nerves in the hands and arms as well. Symptoms can include pain in the affected limbs such as toes, feet or fingers. Some people feel a burning sensation, tearing or stinging, while others are boring and dull pains.

In contrast to circulatory disorders, symptoms of neuropathy are more severe at night and get better with exercise. Parasitic sensations, tingling like "pins and needles", leg cramps and sometimes muscle weakness and unsteady gait also occur. In addition, accompanying symptoms such as sleep disorders or depression can occur. The tricky thing: Sometimes the neuropathy is painless or even without any symptoms. This can have serious consequences, especially on the feet: weakened or lacking sensitivity of the affected limbs causes pressure points, ulcers, strong calluses, injuries or burns.

"Autonomous neuropathy" can affect almost any organ system. Pronounced complaints are relatively rare and usually only observed after a long time. The changes develop slowly and insidiously. They cause symptoms that can also occur with other diseases and which the doctor must rule out. If, for example, the esophagus and stomach are affected, the symptoms include swallowing disorders, nausea, vomiting, a feeling of fullness and hypoglycaemia after meals.

To prevent diabetic neuropathy, people with diabetes should watch out for good blood sugar levels, avoid excessive alcohol consumption, lose weight, avoid smoking and have a check-up at least once a year. Good foot care is important for patients with a pre-existing nerve disease. Drug treatment is often required in the event of persistent pain or unpleasant sensations. According to the results of modern pain research, pain should be treated quickly and effectively so that the experience does not get stuck in the "pain memory" for too long.

"Unfortunately, there is not ONE pain treatment that works equally for all people with diabetes," says Professor Ziegler. "The effectiveness and side effects are therefore very different from individual to individual and difficult to predict." In addition, there are a number of non-drug therapy methods, including psychological pain treatment or physiotherapeutic applications.

last edited: 01/29/2014