How diabetes damages nerves

Over time, people with diabetes can have nerve damage throughout the body. That’s especially true if they have trouble keeping their blood sugar in check.

It’s called diabetic neuropathy. It can take years to develop — and many people have mild or no symptoms. So they may not even know the damage is happening. This can lead to serious health risks, including infection and amputation.

Nerve damage: Far-ranging effects

Here’s a closer look at some of the areas of the body that may be affected.


  • Vision problems

Heart and blood vessels:

  • Problems regulating blood pressure and heart rate
  • Dizziness or fainting when standing up

Sweat glands:

  • Sweating too much or too little
  • Problems regulating body temperature

Hands, legs and feet:

  • Numbness and tingling
  • Burning or prickly pain
  • Weakness or loss of balance
  • Loss of feeling — or extreme sensitivity to touch
  • Sores that go unnoticed or are slow to heal
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

Digestive tract:

  • Slowed digestion and constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting

Urinary tract and sex organs:

  • Bladder-control problem
  • Infections
  • Decreased sexual response

Common — and concerning:

More than half of people with diabetes have some form of nerve damage, according to the American Diabetes Association. It may occur with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Blood sugar control is key

Managing diabetes — especially by keeping your blood sugar in a healthy range — may help you prevent or delay nerve damage and other complications. Talk with your doctor about what your blood sugar level should be, how often to check it, and what to do if it’s too low or too high.

It’s also important to:

  • Take your medicines as prescribed.
  • Know your goals for blood pressure and cholesterol — and have them checked regularly.
  • Check your skin routinely for sore spots that could become infected — especially on your feet. Treat cuts right away.
  • Have an annual dilated eye exam with an ophthalmologist or optometrist. And get regular dental checkups and foot exams.*
  • Work closely with your health care team to learn about and manage your condition.

What to do next

Need help learning how to manage type 2 diabetes? View our Diabetes Toolkit. It has practical tips and handy tools and trackers to help you take care and stay well. 

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