Winter Warning For Neuropathy Sufferers

Severe winter puts stress on those living with diabetes

Manchester, NH — Individuals living with diabetes face increased risk in a severe winter because of cold, damp conditions and must take many precautions to avoid serious side effects.

“People with diabetes should avoid going out in severe cold,” said Cindy Kolenda, BS, CWCN, CFCN, a wound care specialist at Catholic Medical Center. “Their poor circulation can be worsened in cold temperatures, which increases the risk of frost bite.”

What makes cold temperatures even more risky is that some people with diabetes cannot feel their feet. Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can occur with diabetes. High blood sugar can damage nerves in the legs and feet. About 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy, according to the National Institutes of Health. Symptoms may occur at any time and intermittently.

“Diabetes works from your feet to your knees,” explained a 69-year old man participating in CMC’s Diabetes Self-Management Education (DSME) class. “It started as a tingling feeling in one foot then went to the other.” He likens it to the sensation of having a limb “fall asleep.” His doctor ordered tests for nerve damage. “You lie down and they stick needles from your knees to the bottom of your feet and toes. I had no feeling in the bottom of my feet. On the top of my toes, I felt a little bit there. ‘You have a case of neuropathy,’ I was told. ‘You may have a dead nerve and it won’t come back,’ they told me.”

Many people living with diabetes are vulnerable to foot problems. The American Diabetes Association estimates that one in five people with diabetes who seek hospital care do so for foot problems. Even small foot injuries can cause serious trouble. Poor foot care may lead to amputation of a foot or leg.

About 73,000 amputations were performed in people with diabetes in 2010 according to the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes can lead to peripheral arterial disease (PAD), which reduces blood flow to the feet. Reduced sensation from nerve disease is common. Together these problems can result in ulcers and infections that may lead to amputation.

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