Diabetes: Part IV – Nerves

Your nervous system controls all of your body’s functions, including thinking and emotions. Your nervous system has two parts:

  • The central nervous system – the brain and the spinal cord
  • The peripheral nervous system – the nerves that come out of the spinal cord and affect both voluntary functions, for example, walking and involuntary functioning, for example, breathing.

There is a feedback system in the nervous system. This works something like a thermostat. The thermostat monitors the temperature in the home. When it senses the need for heat, it sends that message to the furnace. The furnace kicks on and sends heat throughout the home. The thermostat continues to monitor the temperature. When the temperature is at a predetermined level, the thermostat sends that message to the furnace and the furnace turns off.


So, in order for the nervous system to function properly, both parts must be functioning well.


Diabetes affects the nervous system in two possible ways:

  • A direct effect by bombarding the nerves with too much glucose (sugar) and causing damage
  • An indirect effect by narrowing blood vessels and depriving the nerves of needed food and oxygen.

Good control of blood sugar levels is crucial for avoiding the nervous system complications of diabetes!


Some of these nervous system complications include:

  • Numbness in fingers and toes
  • Tingling or pain in fingers and toes
  • Damage to the feedback system in the feet, causing difficulty walking
  • Erectile dysfunction (difficulty getting or keeping an erection)
  • Diminished sensation in the genitals leading to an inability to have an orgasm (women and men)
  • Poor mental functioning and possibly dementia.

How can you avoid or at least minimize the nervous system complications of diabetes?

  • Keep your blood sugar under control – diet and exercise
  • Do not smoke! Smoking narrows blood vessels.
  • Follow your healthcare provider’s advice regarding medicine.

Diabetes, both Type 1 and Type 2, is a chronic, lifelong condition. But you can do something about it. Take control of your diabetes, manage it and live a full life.



Mary Lou Bernardo, PhD, MSN


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