These expert-backed steps can help prevent your feetand the rest of your bodyfrom nerve damage
- Get tested for nerve damage at least once a year Because symptoms of peripheral neuropathy are sometimes subtle, or even nonexistent, it's important to have a doctor do a thorough foot exam and conduct basic tests for loss of sensation.
- Control your blood sugar Research shows that tight blood glucose control can decrease the risk of diabetic nerve damage by as much as 60 percent. Most people should shoot for a hemoglobin A1c reading of less than 7 percent (but check with your doctor first, as some patients can become hypoglycemic at this level). If you already have neuropathy, getting your glucose levels under control can prevent it from worsening.
- Maintain healthy cholesterol and blood pressure Aim for a blood pressure reading below 140/80 and LDL cholesterol levels below 100 mg/dL, as neuropathy is thought to be exacerbated by diseases that affect the heart and small blood vessels.
- Be fussy about footwear Choose shoes that are flexible enough to walk in easily but that also provide support and cushioning. If necessary, talk to a podiatrist about getting custom-made shoes. Socks should fit well and wick away moisture. Stop wearing shoes that are too tight, which can cause nerve compression, or too loose, which can cause blisters.
- Check your feet every day Take off your shoes and socks and carefully inspect all surfaces of your feet and in between toes for small cuts, blisters, calluses, ingrown toenails and any potential signs of infection. Losing sensation is a common symptom of peripheral neuropathy, so you may be otherwise unaware of broken skin. For this reason, never walk around barefoot indoors or outdoors and always test water temperature with your hands or a thermometer to avoid burning your feet in hot bath water.
- Attend to foot problems immediately Apply first-aid measures to any small cuts or blisters and check daily to make sure the wound is healing. Call your doctor if small wounds do not heal quickly or you sustain a serious foot injury.
From our sister publication, Diabetes Focus (Summer 2011)