Whether or not neuropathy can be reversed depends on the cause of the nerve damage. In some cases, the pain may disappear completely. In others, nerve damage may be permanent. For example, when neuropathy is caused by an infection, symptoms may disappear completely when the infection is treated.
While diabetic neuropathy cannot be reversed, people can take steps to reduce the risk of severe symptoms and additional complications. You can prevent diabetic neuropathy from getting worse and can reverse nerve damage with very good blood glucose control, but the process is very slow. Shamim, M, D. See patients at Kaiser Permanente Largo Medical Center.
As a neurologist, I treat many people who suffer from neuropathy, nerve damage that commonly causes numbness, tingling and burning, most often in the feet and hands. As a result of the current epidemic of diabetes and obesity, more and more patients have neuropathy caused by diabetes. In addition to causing discomfort, neuropathy can interfere with the ability to walk and, if left untreated, can lead to amputation and even organ failure. Nearly one in 10 Americans is diabetic, and that number rises to one in four among people over age 65, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and most people with diabetes eventually develop some form of neuropathy.
The good news for all our patients is that diabetic neuropathy can be prevented, treated and, in many cases, reversible. The key is to treat the underlying diabetes and risk factors for diabetes, which include obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and poorly controlled blood sugar and triglycerides. While we have begun to see types of diabetic neuropathy that we once considered extremely rare or attributed to other causes, by far the most common type of diabetic neuropathy is peripheral neuropathy, which is nerve damage that affects the smaller nerves in the limbs, usually the feet. The symptom we see most often is a loss of sensation in the feet.
This is dangerous for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, if you can't feel your feet, it can be difficult to walk, putting you at risk of falling. In addition, some of my patients develop foot injuries and infections that they end up ignoring, leading (in extreme cases) to amputation of the toes or the entire foot. That's why it's important for anyone with diabetes to have a thorough annual foot exam and control their blood sugar well.
Another type of peripheral neuropathy that is much less common in patients with diabetes is known as small fiber neuropathy. It is very painful and causes burning and tingling that often begins in the feet and progresses upwards in the body. Autonomic neuropathy is damage to the nerves that control the internal organs. This can lead to problems with heart rate and blood pressure, digestion, bladder control, sexual function, and even the ability to feel when blood sugar is low.
We have limited treatment for these symptoms, but the final treatment is blood sugar control. Focal neuropathy is damage to a single nerve, usually in the hand, leg, torso, or head. This type of neuropathy may involve entrapment of a nerve, such as in carpal tunnel syndrome. If entrapment is not involved, focal neuropathy usually resolves without treatment.
If it involves nerve entrapment, treatment strategies can include anything from treating inflammation with medication to, in extreme cases, surgery. Patients who have diabetes and peripheral neuropathy are more likely to develop focal neuropathy due to pressure points, so it is best to avoid tilting your elbows on hard surfaces or crossing one of your legs above the knee. Proximal neuropathy is very rare, but it causes damage to the disabling nerves in the hip, buttocks, or thigh. Most people with diabetes who develop this type of neuropathy recover within a few years, even without treatment.
Diabetic neuropathy is a lifestyle-related disease, which means it has the power to prevent, control it and even. Unhealthy blood sugar levels can damage nerves, so anyone with diabetes is at risk. This includes people who are pre-diabetic, whose blood sugar levels are high but not high enough to qualify them as completely diabetic, and patients with metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that include high blood pressure and blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels and excess body fat around the waist. The diagnosis of diabetic neuropathy is quite simple.
We perform a physical exam and analyze your medical history, diabetes tends to be hereditary, which seems to involve a combination of genetics and lifestyle. If your blood sugar is high and we've ruled out other causes, such as certain chemotherapy drugs, aging, some autoimmune diseases, and alcohol, we can safely attribute your neuropathy to diabetes. Of course, nerve regeneration takes time, so the best thing you can do is prevent it from happening in the first place. The key is to stay active.
It's always easier to prevent neurological problems than to treat them once they appear. For more information on diabetic neuropathy, visit the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. The body cannot repair nerve tissues that have been damaged, which means diabetic neuropathy cannot be reversed. However, side effects can be managed, and treatment for neuropathy often focuses on preventing further damage from occurring.
The good news for those living with neuropathy is that it is sometimes reversible. Simply by addressing contributing causes, such as underlying infections, exposure to toxins, or vitamin and hormone deficiencies, the symptoms of neuropathy often resolve on their own. . .