Diabetic neuropathy is a common complication of diabetes that causes nerve damage in the hands and feet. Neuropathy tends to develop slowly, sometimes over several decades, so people with diabetes are urged to closely monitor their foot health. The symptoms of diabetic neuropathy include a “pins and needles” sensation in the feet, sensitivity to touch or a loss of touch, pain, numbness, tingling, burning, difficulties with coordination while walking, and muscle weakness. 

Diabetic neuropathy can be dangerous and lead to serious complications, as the loss of sensation that it causes in the feet can make foot wounds more likely to form. These wounds tend to heal poorly and may become infected. If you have diabetes, a podiatrist can help you maintain the health of your feet.

At Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists, you can find expert care for diabetic neuropathy and other foot-related conditions. Our team of experienced podiatrists specializes in providing comprehensive diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing support to ensure the optimal foot health of their patients. 


Neuropathy can be a potentially serious condition, especially if it is left undiagnosed. If you have any concerns that you may be experiencing nerve loss in your feet, consult with one of our podiatrists from Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists. Our doctors will assess your condition and provide you with quality foot and ankle treatment for neuropathy.

What Is Neuropathy?

Neuropathy is a condition that damages the nerves in the body. Peripheral neuropathy, or neuropathy that affects the peripheral nervous system, usually occurs in the feet. Neuropathy can be triggered by a number of different causes, including diabetes, infections, cancers, disorders, and toxic substances.

Types Of Diabetic Neuropathy

There are four main types of neuropathy that can impact the nervous system:

  • Peripheral symmetric neuropathy: This is the most common form of diabetic neuropathy and primarily affects the feet and hands.
  • Autonomic neuropathy: This type of neuropathy occurs in the nerves that control involuntary body functions, such as digestion, urination, or heart rate.
  • Thoracic and lumbar root, or proximal, neuropathy: This type of neuropathy damages nerves along a specific distribution in the body, such as the chest wall or legs
  • Mononeuropathies: These types of neuropathies can affect any individual nerve.

Neuropathy Symptoms

Peripheral Symmetric Neuropathy

  • Numbness, pain, tingling, and burning sensations starting in the toes and fingers and progressing up the legs or arms.
  • Loss of muscle tone in the hands and feet.
  • Inability to feel heat, cold, or physical injury.
  • Loss of balance.
  • Charcot's joint, which is the breakdown of a joint due to nerve issues, often occurs in the feet.

Example: A person with peripheral symmetric neuropathy may experience numbness and tingling in their feet and hands, making it difficult to walk and perform fine motor tasks. They may also have difficulty feeling temperature changes, resulting in burns or injuries without realizing it.

Autonomic Neuropathy

  • Heartburn and bloating.
  • Nausea, constipation, or diarrhea.
  • Hypoglycemic unawareness, where a person cannot perceive the effects of low blood sugar levels.
  • Difficulties speaking or swallowing.
  • Feeling full after eating small amounts of food.
  • Vomiting several hours after eating.
  • Orthostatic hypotension, resulting in lightheadedness and dizziness upon standing up.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Excessive sweating, even in cool temperatures or at rest.
  • Bladder problems, such as difficulty fully emptying the bladder or incontinence.
  • Sexual dysfunction in both men and women.

Example: An individual with diabetic autonomic neuropathy may experience digestive issues like bloating, constipation, and feeling full after eating only small portions. They may also have difficulty controlling their bladder, leading to frequent urination or incontinence. Additionally, they may experience sexual dysfunction, such as erectile dysfunction in men or decreased sexual response in women.

Thoracic And Lumbar Root, Or Proximal, Neuropathy

  • Pain in the lower body, often on one side.
  • Weakness in the legs.

Example: Someone with thoracic and lumbar root neuropathy may experience severe pain in their lower back, hip, or leg, along with weakness and difficulty walking. They may also have trouble standing up from a sitting position or climbing stairs.


  • Symptoms vary depending on the affected nerve.

Example: Mononeuropathy can manifest as carpal tunnel syndrome, causing numbness and tingling in the hand and fingers, or radial nerve entrapment, resulting in weakness or numbness in the forearm or wrist. Another example is foot drop, where there is difficulty lifting the front part of the foot, leading to an abnormal gait.

How Is Diabetic Neuropathy Diagnosed?

Diabetic neuropathy is diagnosed through a combination of medical history, physical examination, and various tests. This includes assessing symptoms, conducting a neurological examination, performing nerve conduction studies, electromyography, autonomic testing, quantitative sensory testing, and sometimes a skin biopsy. 

Treatment for Diabetic Neuropathy

To treat neuropathy in the foot, podiatrists first diagnose the cause. Figuring out the underlying cause will allow the podiatrist to prescribe the best treatment, whether it be caused by diabetes, toxic substance exposure, infection, etc. If the nerve has not died, then it’s possible that sensation may be able to return to the foot.

Pain medication may be issued. Electrical nerve stimulation can be used to stimulate nerves. If the neuropathy is caused by pressure on the nerves, then surgery may be necessary.

How To Prevent Diabetic Neuropathy?

To prevent diabetic neuropathy or slow its progression, it is crucial to control blood sugar levels effectively. Here are some straightforward steps you can take:

  • Control blood sugar levels effectively.
  • Follow a balanced and healthy diet, limiting processed sugars and carbs.
  • Engage in regular physical activity.
  • Monitor blood sugar levels regularly.
  • Adhere to prescribed medications.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.
  • Take care of your feet by checking them daily, keeping them clean and dry, and wearing proper footwear.

Who’s Most Likely To Develop Diabetic Neuropathy?

People with diabetes, particularly those who have had the condition for a long time or have poorly controlled blood sugar levels, are most likely to develop diabetic neuropathy. Other risk factors include type 2 diabetes, poor glycemic control, duration of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, smoking, kidney disease, and older age. 

Expert Foot and Ankle Treatment at Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists

Understanding the symptoms and complications of diabetic neuropathy is important for individuals with diabetes. Numbness, pain, and muscle weakness are common signs that should not be ignored. Seeking expert foot and ankle treatment is essential to prevent further complications and maintain overall foot health.

Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists offer quality foot and ankle treatment for neuropathy. Our experienced podiatrists assess conditions, provide comprehensive care, and utilize the latest diagnostic and treatment technologies. Visit our offices in Lake in the Hills, Cary, Fox Lake, Crystal Lake, Hoffman Estates, Chicago, Elgin, and Hinsdale, ILfor advanced foot care.

Don't let diabetic neuropathy go undiagnosed or untreated. Contact Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists today to schedule an appointment and receive expert care for your foot and ankle needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some potential complications diabetic neuropathy has?

Diabetic neuropathy can give rise to serious complications, including poorly healing foot wounds that may become infected. It can also result in muscle weakness, coordination difficulties, and an increased risk of falls.

Can high blood pressure contribute to the development of focal neuropathy?

While high blood pressure itself may not directly cause focal neuropathy, it can worsen nerve damage and increase the risk of complications.

How does diabetes affect the digestive system?

Diabetes can impact the nerves that control digestion, leading to a condition called diabetic gastroparesis. This can result in symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, bloating, and difficulties in digesting food properly.

How does diabetes affect blood vessels and circulation?

Diabetes can cause damage to blood vessels, resulting in poor circulation. Reduced blood flow to the nerves can contribute to the development of focal neuropathy and other complications.

Can diabetic neuropathy affect the sex organs?

Yes, diabetic neuropathy can affect the nerves that control sexual function. This can lead to issues such as erectile dysfunction in men and decreased libido in both men and women.

Can diabetic neuropathy affect sweat glands?

Diabetic neuropathy can indeed affect the nerves that control sweat glands. This can cause abnormal sweating patterns or reduced sweating in certain areas of the body.