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Diabetic Neuropathy

What is diabetic neuropathy?
Diabetic neuropathy is a peripheral nerve disorder caused by diabetes. The symptoms of diabetic neuropathy are often slight at first. In fact, some mild cases may go unnoticed for a long time. Numbness, pain, or tingling in the feet, or legs may, after several years, lead to weakness in the muscles of the feet. Occasionally, diabetic neuropathy can flare up suddenly and affect specific nerves so that an affected individual will develop double vision or drooping eyelids, or weakness and atrophy of the thigh muscles. Nerve damage caused by diabetes generally occurs over a period of years and may lead to problems with the digestive tract and sexual organs, which can cause indigestion, diarrhea or constipation, dizziness, bladder infections, and impotence. The loss of sensation in the feet may increase the possibility for foot injuries to go unnoticed and develop into ulcers or lesions that become infected.

Is there any treatment?
The goal of treatment for diabetic neuropathy is to relieve discomfort and prevent further tissue damage. The first step is to bring blood sugar levels under control by diet and medication. Another important part of treatment involves taking special care of the feet. Analgesics, low doses of antidepressants, and some anticonvulsant medications may be prescribed for relief of pain, burning, or tingling. Some patients may find that walking regularly, taking warm baths, or using elastic stockings may help relieve leg pain.

What is the prognosis?
The prognosis for diabetic neuropathy depends largely on how well the underlying condition of diabetes is handled. Treating diabetes may halt progression and improve symptoms of the neuropathy, but recovery is slow. The painful sensations of diabetic neuropathy may become severe enough to cause depression in some patients.

What research is being done?
The NINDS conducts and supports research on diabetic neuropathy aimed at increasing understanding of the disorder and finding ways to prevent and cure it. New medications are currently being examined to assess improvement or stabilization of neuropathic symptoms.

Select this link to view a list of studies currently seeking patients.

Organizations
American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA)
P.O. Box 850
Rocklin, CA 95677-0850
ACPA@pacbell.net 
http://www.theacpa.org
Tel: 916-632-0922, 800-533-3231
Fax: 916-632-3208

American Diabetes Association
1701 North Beauregard Street
Alexandria, VA 22311
customerservice@diabetes.org
http://www.diabetes.org
Tel: 800-DIABETES (342-2383) 703-549-1500

National Chronic Pain Outreach Association (NCPOA)
P.O. Box 274
Millboro, VA 24460
ncpoa@cfw.com
http://www.chronicpain.org
Tel: 540-862-9437
Fax: 540-862-9485

National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)
National Institutes of Health, DHHS
45 Center Dr, Rm. 4AS19 MSC 6400
Bethesda, MD 20892-6400
nidrinfo@od31.nidr.nih.gov
http://www.nidr.nih.gov
Tel: 301-496-4261

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
National Institutes of Health,DHHS
31 Center Drive, Rm. 9A06 MSC 2560
Bethesda, MD 20892-2560
http://www.niddk.nih.gov
Tel: 301-496-3583

Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, International
120 Wall Street
New York, NY 10005-4001
info@jdrf.org 
http://www.jdrf.org
Tel: 800-533-CURE (-2873)
Fax: 212-795-9595

This information was developed by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health.

Office of Communications and Public Liaison, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health. NINDS Diabetic Neuropathy Information Page. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/health_and_medical/disorders/diabetic_doc.htm. Last accessed October 8, 2004.

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