Diabetes is a disease that affects the metabolism in the body. It causes increase blood sugar concentration due to various reasons. Diabetes though a major complication itself, which is to be avoided causes other complications affecting the important working systems of the body like the , cardiovascular system, nervous system, renal system, and the eyes.
Causes of leg pain in diabetics
The most common complications that cause pain in the legs are peripheral arterial/vascular disease or diabetic neuropathy. Arterial disease is the disease of the blood vessels, while neuropathy is the damage of nerves in the body.
Peripheral arterial/vascular disease
The normal symptoms of this disease are pain, cramps and tired legs. People might not realize this to be a serious condition because the symptoms can be just another stray case of pain, cramps or tiredness, in fact people are convinced it is just a stray incident or think of it as aging signs. If not treated on time it will cause severe complications which might eventually lead to amputation.
Peripheral Arterial Disease is a situation that arises due to the clogging of the arteries that supply blood to the legs and feet. The arteries get clogged due to the fatty deposits known as plaque which causes reduced blood flow to these areas or total lack of blood flow to these areas due to complete blockage of the arteries.
Almost any person may develop Peripheral Arterial Disease, but the probability of developing this condition is extremely high among diabetics, to be more specific type two diabetics because there are loads of variations in a diabetic’s body which arise due to irresponsiveness of the body to insulin, excess fat in the body and blood, high blood pressure. All these create a perfect environment for the fats to get deposited on the walls of the blood vessels causing the blood vessels to become narrow, hard or totally blocked.
Diabetes causes the risk of getting affected by neuropathy to increase i.e. the nerves get damaged to high concentrations of sugar in the blood and the body. Since there is damage of nerves in the condition of neuropathy, there might be a lack of sensation in the legs and feet which leads a person to not take notice of injuries in that area of the body. Since there is a lack of blood supply due to Peripheral Arterial Constrictions and blockages these wounds do not heal or take really long periods of times to heal. So the combination of Peripheral Arterial Disease and neuropathy won’t let us realize injuries on our legs, which won’t heal due to the lack of proper blood supply and eventually might lead to amputation.
Signs and symptoms of Peripheral Arterial Disease
- The most significant sign of Peripheral Arterial Disease is the severe pain or cramps one can feel in their legs, toes or feet or all of them. The pain may also increase while walking or during other physical activities that require the usage of legs.
- Another symptom is delayed healing of sores, cuts or any sort of injury on the legs or feet.
- Feet may feel cold, due to lack of blood supply. Sometimes one leg or foot might be colder than the other. A person might not notice this change in temperature on his own.
It is possible for people to have this condition without any symptoms at all. So regular screening is advised. People who are advised screening are the ones who are above fifty years of age and the people who have diabetes for more than ten years.
There are many ways to treat this condition.
- Change in lifestyle can help prevent diabetes and prevent arterial disease. Even if one is diabetic, changes in lifestyle go a long way in preventing all complications including arterial diseases.
- Drugs to manage diabetes (i.e. to keep glucose concentration in the normal range), to lower blood cholesterol and fat and to lower high blood pressure reduce the risk of arterial diseases.
- Surgical procedures like angiogram in severe cases can be used to get rid of blockages or constrictions.
- Off late a new method has been developed to remove plaque from the walls of the blood vessels. The affected artery is introduced with a tube that can be inserted into it which has tiny blades to remove plaque from the walls. This procedure is not possible if the artery is completely blocked or almost blocked.
Pain due to neuropathy
Diabetic neuropathy is the damage to the nerve caused by high concentration of sugar in the blood stream. There are different types of neuropathies.
- Peripheral Neuropathy
- Autonomic Neuropathy
- Proximal Neuropathy
- Focal Neuropathy
All the above mentioned neuropathies except autonomic neuropathy cause severe pain in the legs. This is because the nerves send signals in the form of electric pulses and the damage of nerves prevents these impulses being insulated and restricted to the nerves. These electric impulses come in contact with muscles and cause pain in the legs.