Diabetic neuropathy is a complication of diabetes that causes nerve damage. Over time, high levels of glucose and fats in the blood can damage nerve coverings, as well as blood vessels that carry oxygen to nerves. Diabetic neuropathy can happen anywhere in your body. Types of diabetic neuropathy include:

  • Autonomic neuropathy, which affects nerves that control internal organs
  • Focal neuropathy, which typically affects a single nerve in the head, hand, torso or leg
  • Peripheral neuropathy, which affects the legs and feet and sometimes the arms and hands. This is the most common form – as many as half of people with diabetes experience peripheral neuropathy. 
  • Proximal neuropathy, a rare type that affects one side of the body in the hip, thigh or buttock

Diabetic neuropathy may cause symptoms that include:

  • Numbness, burning or tingling, weakness and shooting pains in hands, feet or legs
  • Pain when walking
  • Leg weakness
  • Loss of muscle strength and muscle tone
  • Loss of reflexes
  • Problems with sexual function
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome, caused by nerve compression at the wrist
  • Dizziness when changing positions quickly
  • Constipation and diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Problems swallowing
  • Problems sensing pain or temperature changes in parts of the body
  • Vision issues, especially problems adjusting to changing light conditions
  • Sudden, sometimes severe pain in a hip, buttock or thigh
  • Swollen feet
  • Urinary problems

Over time, high levels of blood glucose and fats, such as triglycerides, can damage nerve coverings or the blood vessels that carry oxygen to nerves.

You can help prevent diabetic neuropathy by properly managing your diabetes. This includes:

  • Keeping your blood glucose levels in your target range
  • Monitoring your blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Taking good care of your feet and checking them daily for problems
  • Seeing your health care provider for an exam at least once a year to check for neuropathy in feet and other areas of your body

Diabetic neuropathy can lead to serious health problems if left untreated. 

Complications of diabetic neuropathy include:

  • Foot problems, including infections and ulcers that can lead to amputation
  • Cheiroarthropathy, or thickened skin in the hands that can lead to decreased flexibility of the hands and fingers
  • Severe gastroparesis, a condition that prevents food from moving normally through your stomach to your small intestine
  • Peripheral nerve entrapment, including carpal tunnel and cubital tunnel
  • Bladder infections