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Diabetic Neuropathy and Vertigo: Are They Related?

This article will take a deeper dive into what might be causing your symptoms and ways to keep yourself safe.

Overview

Many individuals with diabetes suffer from feelings of dizziness and imbalance, which can lead to life-altering limitations and anxiety. Vertigo is a common condition of the inner ear that may make you feel like you are spinning or falling after quickly getting up or lying down, but could it be related to diabetic neuropathy? This article will take a deeper dive into what might be causing your symptoms and ways to keep yourself safe.


Can Neuropathy Cause Vertigo?

Vertigo is a sensation of artificial movement caused by changes inside the ear. The inner ear is made up of several complex structures and nerves which help keep us steady and balanced. When these structures become damaged or aren’t working correctly, the symptoms can be unpleasant. Most people describe vertigo as sensations of spinning, falling, or swaying after making a rapid change in position. The most common causes of vertigo are:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV): Caused by the shifting of small calcium deposits in the ear, which trick your brain into thinking that you are moving.
  • Meniere's Disease: A build-up of fluid in the ear causing vertigo, ringing in the ears, and hearing loss.
  • Vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis: Inflammation of the nerves in the ears usually caused by an infection or autoimmune condition.

Although diabetes can cause damage to the nerves in many parts of the body, researchers have not found a connection between diabetic neuropathy and nerve damage causing vertigo. While it is entirely possible to have neuropathy and vertigo, there is not enough evidence to suggest that neuropathy causes vertigo in people with diabetes.


Diabetes and Vestibular Dysfunction

Although researchers have yet to prove diabetic neuropathy as a cause of vertigo, a growing body of research indicates a connection between diabetes and balance issues.

Vestibular dysfunction (VD) is a general term for inner ear impairment. VD often causes dizziness and loss of balance, and according to a large study conducted in 2009, it is more likely to occur in people with diabetes. Research from the University of Kansas suggests that chronically high blood sugar can damage cells within the ear and contribute to dizziness in people with uncontrolled diabetes.

Treatment

Treating vestibular dysfunction is possible with the help of a physical therapist who specializes in balance training or vestibular rehab. Exercises focus on retraining the way your ears send movement signals to your brain, but you will also learn how to manage the symptoms of dizziness in your daily life.

Other Causes of Dizziness/Loss of Balance

If you have diabetes and are experiencing dizziness or loss of balance, it is important to consider all possible causes.

  • Low Blood Sugar: Drops in blood sugar can lead to sudden feelings of lightheadedness or dizziness.
  • Peripheral Neuropathy: Loss of sensation in the feet can make it difficult to maintain balance while walking.
  • Autonomic Neuropathy: This advanced form of neuropathy can cause dizziness if the body cannot adjust your blood pressure when you change positions.
  • Visual Changes: Retinopathy can make it difficult to see your surroundings and can cause feelings of dizziness or imbalance.
  • Medications: Many medicines for diabetes and heart disease can cause dizziness, and when taken together, it might be more severe.

Preventing Falls

If you have diabetes and experience symptoms of dizziness, loss of balance, or lightheadedness, you are at an increased risk of suffering a fall. Falling can lead to severe injuries, including broken bones, bleeding in the brain, open wounds, and damage to internal organs. Make fall prevention a priority in your daily life by following these tips.

  • Check your blood sugar: If you feel dizzy or faint, check your blood sugar right away and eat a fast-acting carbohydrate if your blood sugar is less than 70 mg/dL.
  • Mobility aids: Investing in a cane or walker may be necessary if you have balance issues related to peripheral neuropathy. These mobility tools can help keep you steady, and they come in a variety of styles to fit your needs.
  • Eliminate tripping hazards: Keeping your floors clear of electrical cords and area rugs will reduce the risk of tripping if your vision is impaired.
  • Exercise: Staying fit and strong is one of the best ways to improve your functional capacity and reduce the chance of suffering a fall.

Protect your feet

Wounds on your feet can be painful and may make walking more challenging. By keeping your feet healthy, you can stay active and reduce your risk of developing balance issues from diabetes. Find a Certified Siren Provider and discover if Siren Socks are right for you.

Sources:

Agrawal, Carey, & Santina. Disorders of Balance and Vestibular Function in US Adults. JAMA. Published May 2009.

American Diabetes Association. Autonomic Neuropathy. n.d.

American Diabetes Association. Balance and Avoiding Falls. n.d.

D’Silva, et al. Impact of Diabetic Complications on Balance and Falls: Contribution of the Vestibular System. Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association. Published August 2015.

Johns Hopkins Medicine. Vestibular Balance Disorder. n.d.

Metzger, G. Vertigo. WebMD. Medically Reviewed December 2020.

Walley, et al. Dizziness and Loss of Balance in Individuals With Diabetes: Relative Contribution of Vestibular Versus Somatosensory Dysfunction. Clinical Diabetes. Published April 2014.



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