One of the Key Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms: Leg Pain

Written by
The Manual Team
Medically approved by
Dr Earim Chaudry
Last updated
14th April 2021

In 30 seconds

What’s one of the major type 2 diabetes symptoms? Leg pain. It is the result of nerve damage – or diabetic neuropathy – that’s a consequence of high blood sugar levels.

The glucose in your blood is normally regulated by the hormone, insulin. However, some, usually older, people develop what’s known as insulin resistance. This is when the insulin that your body produces does not work as it should. It’s known as type 2 diabetes – and the result is high blood sugar, which can be quite serious.

Leg pain – or tingling or numbness in your limbs – is not the only symptom. Unintended weight loss, a need to urinate more frequently, and increased hunger and thirst are all common symptoms, too. If you’re experiencing any of these, you must talk to a healthcare professional.

Let’s Talk About the Symptoms of Diabetes

Here’s an interesting — and concerning — fact about diabetes: a lot of people don’t know they have it.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20% of people with diabetes aren’t aware that they have the condition. And, similarly, if as many as one-third of US adults have prediabetes (a less serious condition that suggests diabetes might be on the way) less than 20% are aware they have it.

This suggests that there are a lot of people suffering that aren’t managing their condition. And that means they’re putting themselves at a far greater risk of complications.

That’s why we want to help you recognise the symptoms of diabetes. Here, we’re looking at one of the most important type 2 diabetes symptoms: leg pain.

What is Type 2 Diabetes?

As you may know, there are two main types of diabetes (or diabetes mellitus, as it’s fully known). Both affect your ability to regulate your blood glucose levels by impairing your body’s production and use of insulin. However, they have different causes – and the symptoms are experienced differently too.

Type 2 diabetes is usually associated with older adults. That’s because, if type 1 diabetes is genetic, type 2 is largely caused by your lifestyle (although things like your ethnicity can put you more at risk). Type 1 is an auto-immune disease, meaning that your immune system attacks your body — in this case, your pancreas, where insulin is created. However, type 2 diabetes occurs because your body has developed a resistance to the insulin you produce.

What’s insulin resistance? It means that your body’s cells no longer respond properly to the insulin you produce. That means insulin can’t do what it needs to do: regulate your blood sugar levels. As a result, your blood sugar stays high.

The outcome of both conditions is the same. High blood glucose. Yet, there is a crucial difference between the symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. In type 1, symptoms come on immediately – meaning that you are more likely to notice them. In type 2? They develop more slowly over time and are far more likely to slip under the radar.

Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes to Look Out For

Type 2 diabetes symptoms develop gradually, which is why so many people don’t know they have the condition in the first place. So, the first step in diabetes care? Knowing the symptoms.

Here are some of the most common symptoms of type 2 diabetes you need to recognise:

  • A frequent need for urination
  • Increased hunger and thirst
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Fatigue and occasionally blurry vision
  • Slow healing from wounds and more frequent infection
  • Numbness, tingling, or pain in your arms and legs, fingers, or toes

Even though people are developing type 2 diabetes at an increasingly young age, it is still a condition most commonly associated with older men. 

It is more common in men with obesity and it often develops in conjunction with high cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association. So, if you are living with either of these, we recommend that you pay close attention to any possible symptoms.  

Why Is One of the Main Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms Leg Pain?

This brings us to that strange type 2 diabetes symptom: leg pain. It doesn’t happen to everyone; only about a quarter of people with diabetes, according to one estimate. Yet, it can be quite debilitating if you experience it as it can affect your sleep, mood, and general wellness. And it can also cause complications.

Diabetes and nerve damage

Why does diabetic leg pain happen? Well, the proper name of the condition behind it is diabetic peripheral neuropathy.

In simple terms, that’s nerve damage. Diabetes can affect the small blood vessels that carry crucial minerals to your nerves. And, when your nerves stop receiving the nutrients that they need, the fibres of your nerves themselves deteriorate — and can disappear altogether.

Nerve pain tends to be the result. While we said about 25% of diabetes patients experience pain, probably about half of diabetic people have nerve damage of some description. Many others will feel numbness, tingling, or a loss of ability to feel temperature or pain in their feet.

The trouble with diabetic neuropathy is that it can spread. If you first felt it in your feet or lower legs, it can extend up your legs and even into your fingers and arms too.

Autonomic neuropathy

Importantly, though, it is not just your extremities that can suffer from neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is the term for nerve damage in those areas. However, autonomic neuropathy is also a possibility.

That’s when nerve damage affects nerves to your crucial organs, such as your heart or sexual organs. As a result, you might experience erectile dysfunction or loss of bladder control, or an irregular heartbeat.

Similarly, autonomic neuropathy can affect your digestive system too. The result, in that case, can be constipation, diarrhoea, or bloating.

What’s the Outlook?

Neuropathy is a potentially serious complication of diabetes. When left untreated, it can develop into certain, unpleasant conditions.

You may have heard horror stories about conditions like Charcot Foot, for example. Due to neuropathy in your foot or leg, you may not feel injury to the area and you may continue walking on a damaged foot. This can result in long term damage to your limbs and joints that go unnoticed — and ultimately may cause mobility issues.

Such a condition is very rare. And, in most cases, you will be able to identify any diabetes symptoms — such as leg pain — long before you suffer any long term complications.

These days, there are many ways to treat type 2 diabetes effectively. And, in several cases, successful treatment can mean that it goes into remission completely.

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Key Takeaways

Here, we’ve been discussing one of the most recognisable — but potentially most serious — type 2 diabetes symptoms: leg pain. As a consequence of nerve damage resulting from diabetic peripheral neuropathy, leg pain can mean that your diabetes has progressed. 

While complications aren’t impossible, treatment is often effective. Your job is to notice the symptoms and talk to a healthcare provider if you are concerned. 

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Diabetes Fast Facts: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/quick-facts.html

  2. American Heart Association – Cholesterol Abnormalities and Diabetes: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/diabetes/why-diabetes-matters/cholesterol-abnormalities–diabetes#.WO_301PytEJ

  3. Matthew J. Snyder, DO, and Lawrence M. Gibbs, MD, Tammy J. Lindsay, MD (2016). Treating Painful Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy: An Update: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2016/0801/p227.html

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Diabetes and Nerve Damage: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/diabetes-nerve-damage.html

  5. Foot Health Facts – Charcot Foot: https://www.foothealthfacts.org/conditions/charcot-foot

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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