Diabetes is a disease that doesn't discriminate—the damage it causes often takes place throughout the body. And one of the things the disease attacks is your nerves. About 60 to 70 percent of diabetics suffer some type of nerve damage, or neuropathy, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. And the most likely to have it are people who've had diabetes for at lesat 25 years, who are overweight, who have high blood pressure, or who have trouble controlling their blood-sugar levels.

While doctors cannot always pinpoint exactly how diabetes causes nerve damage, some of the most likely culprits, either singly responsible or working in combination, include high blood sugar and other metabolic factors such as high levels of blood fats and low levels of insulin; vascular difficulties affecting the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to nerves; and autoimmune problems that cause nerve inflammation.

How do you know if you've got diabetic neuropathy? The first symptom of nerve damage is often numbness, tingling or pain in the feet, although some diabetics with nerve damage may never notice any symptoms at all. Symptoms may start gradually and build over time, or they may come on suddenly and aggressively. Typically, they include:

  • numbness, tingling and pain in the legs and feet (this is the most common type of diabetic neuropathy, and it's why experts recommend that diabetics get thorough foot exams each year)
  • numbness, tingling and pain in the arms, hands, and fingers
  • atrophying of the foot and hand muscles
  • gastrointestinal distress
  • dizziness due to blood-pressure drops
  • urinary problems
  • erectile difficulties

Diabetic neuropathy also can cause blindness as nerves in the eyes deteriorate, can affect bladder and bowel function, and can even alter the way you sweat.

The best way to prevent diabetic neuropathy? Keep your blood-sugar levels as steady as possible and in the normal range. This will go a long way toward maintaining your health and your normal sensory and bodily functions. But if you've already suffered some type of nerve damage, see your doctor. Your treatment will depend upon the type of nerve damage you have, as there are too many variables for one standard treatment to apply to everyone.