Don't Ignore Burning Feet or Numb Toes

Warning Signs of Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy

Doctor Examining Foot
Doctor Examining Foot. Lisa Blue/E+/Getty Images

Burning feet, numb toes, or tingling in your toes or feet are more than annoying symptoms. They may be warning signs diabetes and the dangerous condition diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Left untreated, this can lead to foot ulcers and amputation.

"Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is not only painful but dangerous," says Dr. John M. Giurini, president of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS) in a press release.

"It's a leading contributor to foot ulcers in people with diabetes."

Causes of Burning Feet and Numb Toes Due to Neuropathy

  • Diabetes is the leading cause of these symptoms in the United States. One out of four people with diabetes are undiagnosed¬†and burning or tingling toes may be the first symptom they notice.
  • Alcohol abuse is another leading cause of leg neuropathy.
  • Thyroid problems, especially hypothyroidism
  • Nutritional deficiencies, especially Vitamin B12 and B6.
  • Back problems and pinched nerves in the ankles.
  • Diseases such as Lyme disease and HIV/AIDS.
  • Chemotherapy agents and some medications have neuropathy as a side effect.

Other Causes of Burning Toes that aren't Neuropathy

  • Athlete's foot, a common fungal infection of the foot.
  • Peripheral artery disease: this is a blockage of blood flow to the legs and feet due to atherosclerosis.
  • Shoe allergies: If the symptoms appear only when wearing specific shoes, it could be due to sensitivity to the materials used in them. Leather tanning agents, adhesives, and glues and dyes are all culprits for shoe allergies.

    Saving Your Toes

    Burning toes or numb toes could be the first sign that you have diabetes. You need to see the doctor to get a complete checkup as well as a foot exam. Even people with diabetes who maintain good blood sugar control can develop peripheral neuropathy. If the condition leads to foot ulcers, it leads to amputation 20 percent of the time.

    Don't ignore these symptoms. Burning toes can lead to having toes amputated. You need to know whether you have diabetes and how to maintain good blood sugar control.

    Diagnosis for Burning Feet

    Blood and urine tests will be done for diabetes and overall health indicators, as well as a general medical history and physical. The doctor will check your feet for the condition of the skin, muscles, bones and blood flow.

    Nerve function is tested with a monofilament or a tuning fork, looking for numb areas. If the doctor suspects peripheral neuropathy, further tests may be done such as nerve conduction studies and electromyography (EMG).

    Treatment for Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy

    If you are diagnosed with diabetic peripheral neuropathy, you need to carefully keep your blood sugar levels within your target range. Medication is available for the pain and your doctor will consider your individual needs when prescribing it. It is very important to protect your feet so you don't develop foot ulcers that can lead to amputation.

    Caring for Your Feet

    See a podiatrist regularly to have your condition assessed and to address any needs for custom footwear and orthotics. You need shoes that fit well, allowing enough room for your toes to move and not constricting blood flow to your feet and toes.

    You don't want too loose of a fit, either.

    Check your feet daily to see if you have any signs of injury or the beginnings of a foot infection. You may not notice this as readily without looking, as you feet may have lost sensation. Don't skip looking between the toes and at the soles of your feet. If you aren't limber enough to do this, enlist someone in your household to help out. You might also use a mirror on a pole, which you can find online or ask at a pharmacy. Look for swelling, redness, and rashes. Consult your doctor or podiatrist whenever you spot these symptoms.


    Press Release, Foot Pain? You May Have Diabetes. ACFAS.

    "Peripheral Neuropathy," American Diabetes Association, Last Edited: December 5, 2013.

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