Diabetes and keeping your nerves healthy

Nerve damage is a long-term complication of diabetes. If you have high blood glucose (sugar) levels over an extended period of time it can cause diabetic neuropathy (damage your nerves).

What is neuropathy?

There are two types of neuropathy:

  1. Peripheral – affects the feeling in the arms, hands, legs and feet
  2. Autonomic – affects the nerves in the heart, stomach, intestines, bladder and sex organs

Neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can happen to people who have diabetes. This damage makes it hard for their nerves to carry messages to the brain and other parts of the body. It can cause numbness (loss of feeling), burning sensation and painful stabbing or tingling, especially in the feet and hands.

What can cause diabetic neuropathy?

The prolonged exposure to high blood glucose can cause diabetic neuropathy. High blood glucose damages blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to the nerves. Inherited traits may also increase your susceptibility to nerve disease.

What can I do to prevent diabetic neuropathy?

The best way to prevent diabetic neuropathy is to:

  • manage your diabetes;
  • monitor your blood glucose levels;
  • keep your blood pressure under control;
  • quit smoking;
  • exercise regularly; and
  • inspect your feet daily.

What are the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy?

Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy can vary. Numbness and tingling in the feet are often the first signs. Some people may notice no symptoms, while others are severely disabled. Symptoms are often slight at first, and since most nerve damage occurs over a period of years, mild cases may go unnoticed for a long time.

Symptoms include:

  • numbness, painful stabbing or tingling or a burning feeling in your feet or hands;
  • feeling lightheaded;
  • diarrhea and constipation;
  • feeling of fullness, bloating, indigestion or nausea; and
  • failure to get an erection (in men)

How is diabetic neuropathy treated?

Treatment of neuropathy is aimed at preventing further nerve damage and to relieve discomfort. Maintaining lower blood glucose levels can help reverse the pain or loss of sensation that neuropathy can cause. Controlling your blood glucose levels can help prevent or delay further problems. A number of medications and other approaches are used to relieve the symptoms.

For more information, visit the Diabetes Canada website.


Published date: 
June 30, 2021
Health PEI logo

General Inquiries

Health PEI
PO Box 2000
Charlottetown, PE   C1A 7N8

Phone: 902-368-6130
Fax: 902-368-6136


Your Health Privacy

Media Inquiries
Phone: 902-368-6135

Health PEI Board of Directors

If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency department.

If you are unsure what to do about a health issue or if you need health information, call 8-1-1.

811 logo