If you have lost the ability to feel your feet, you probably don’t know it. A study of 1,100 people with diabetes aged 61 or more found that more than 90 percent of them were unaware of it.
When you lose feeling in your feet, you have neuropathy, the most common complication of diabetes. The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse says that between 60 and 70 percent of us have a form of it.
Neuropathy can be painful and even worse than being painful. It leads to 15 percent of us getting foot ulcers, and between 14 and 24 percent of those with a foot ulcer will require amputation, according to the American Diabetes Association’s “Consensus Development Conference on Diabetic Foot Wound Care.”
But We Can Avoid All This
But none of this has to be your fate. We now have an inexpensive and easy way to check our feet so we can take charge of the health of our feet. It’s also clear what we can do to avoid getting diabetic neuropathy, and reversing it is even possible.
We can now use disposable probes called monofilaments to test our feet at home. They are non-invasive and painless. You use them to check for a lack of sensitivity, which can be a warning of diabetic peripheral neuropathy and its consequences.
Until late last year the U.S. government had provided monofilaments through its Lower Extremity Amputation Prevention (LEAP) program. But early this year Medical Monofilament Manufacturing in Plymouth, Massachusetts stepped into the gap. I discovered this when I represented HealthCentral.com at the annual convention of the American Diabetes Association in Boston from June 5 to 9.
There I met Dr. Thomas Hardiman, the company’s medical director. He told me that his company had established a Fit2Walk subsidiary that was beginning to make a new product for those of us who have diabetes so we can understand and take charge of our foot health. But Dr. Hardiman didn’t have any extra kit samples to send me until just now.
Fit2Walk is the only manufacturer of monofilaments that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has provided 510(k) clearance for the kit to be used by patients as well as health professionals. The main components of the kit are four 10-gram monofilaments. You press the filament to four different areas of each foot for a second or two, pushing hard enough to make it bend. You use one of these disposable probes to check every three months for a year.
In addition to the monofilaments, the kit includes several additional resources. These include instructions for how to do the self-testing, quarterly reminders for testing, a foot mirror to help with the self-testing, tips for proper foot care, and a test results tracker to record the results and to share with your doctor, if you need to. Fit2Walk sells the kits for $33.
I am happy to say that I could feel the probe at all four sites on each foot. And I’ve noted on my calendar to check every three months. If you can’t feel the probe, it means that you are at risk for ulceration and need special care. That also means making an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
How to Avoid Neuropathy
It’s clear that the only way to avoid diabetic peripheral neuropathy is making sure that your blood sugar stays low. This means keeping your A1C levels below 5.7 all the time.
”The best way to prevent neuropathy is to keep blood glucose levels as close to the normal range as possible,” according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at “Diabetic Neuropathies: The Nerve Damage of Diabetes.”
How to Reverse Neuropathy
It’s not impossible to reverse diabetic peripheral neuropathy, but only a few people have succeeded, probably because they aren’t able to reduce their blood glucose levels enough. If our blood glucose levels have been elevated for years, as Dr. Richard K. Bernstein said on one of his webcasts, we may have autonomic neuropathy, which is the actual destruction of nerves. If our neuropathy is autonomic, the nerves have to regrow. That takes time, but isn’t impossible.
“In a young, healthy non-diabetic, nerves regrow at the rate of a millimeter a day,” Dr. Bernstein explained. “So to get from the tip of your toe to your spine might be one meter — a thousand millimeters. That would be a thousand days, and if you were in poor health and older, it might be 2000 days.”
Clearly, it’s a lot easier and better to prevent diabetic neuropathy and to reverse it. Getting one of these Fit2Walk kits may be your best way to start.
See more of my articles about how to manage diabetes:
David Mendosa was a journalist who learned in 1994 that he had type 2 diabetes, which he wrote about exclusively. He died in May 2017 after a short illness unrelated to diabetes. He wrote thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and published a monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, A1C level of 5.3, and BMI of 19.8 kept his diabetes in remission without any drugs until his death.