Between 60 and 70 percent of people who have diabetes suffer from some form of neuropathy. A common and serious complication of diabetes, diabetic neuropathy affects your nerves, which are damaged as the result of uncontrolled blood sugar levels.
Diabetic neuropathy develops slowly over time, getting progressively worse over the decades. Early diagnosis is essential for managing symptoms and slowing the progression of nerve damage by controlling your blood sugar and making other healthy lifestyle changes. Left untreated, neuropathy can lead to injuries and infections in the extremities, which may require amputation.
The earliest symptoms of diabetic neuropathy typically affect the feet or hands and include tingling, numbness, pain, or muscle weakness. Later symptoms vary depending on the affected nerves and may include:
Neuropathy isn’t a single condition, but rather a broad term to describe several types of nerve damage. The four most common types of neuropathy in people with diabetes are peripheral, autonomic, proximal, and focal neuropathy.
Peripheral neuropathy is the most common type in people with diabetes. It typically affects the feet, hands, arms, or legs. Symptoms can vary, and they may range from mild to severe. These include:
Autonomic neuropathy is the second most common type and affects the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary body systems and functions. It may affect your digestive or cardiovascular systems, your sweat glands or sex organs, or the bladder.
Depending on the nerves affected, autonomic neuropathy is associated with serious complications, including:
Proximal neuropathy is less common than peripheral and autonomic. Also known as diabetic amyotrophy, this type of neuropathy most commonly affects older adults with type 2 diabetes. It typically occurs in the legs, hips, and thighs and affects just one side of the body. In severe cases, the resulting pain and loss of muscle tone makes mobility difficult.
Focal neuropathy, also known as mononeuropathy, affects a specific nerve or nerve group, causing weakness in the affected area. Focal neuropathy onsets suddenly. It can affect the head, legs, or upper body, and may be very painful.
Unlike other forms of neuropathy, focal neuropathy typically goes away within a few weeks or months and doesn’t usually cause permanent damage.
Symptoms of focal neuropathy include:
High blood sugar levels over a prolonged period of time is the cause of diabetic neuropathy. Other factors that can lead to nerve damage include:
In addition to asking about your symptoms and medical history, your doctor will perform a physical exam to check your reflexes and your sensitivity to touch, vibration and temperature. A filament test will determine whether you’ve lost sensation in any of your limbs. A diagnosis will be made based on all of these factors.
While there’s no cure for diabetic neuropathy, treatment can slow the progression of the condition and help you manage associated symptoms.
Slowing the progression of the disease is a matter of maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, quitting smoking, and exercising daily. Pain can be managed through quality herbal supplements. Look for a supplement with standardized R-Alpha Lipoic Acid, Vitamin B1 in the form of Benfotiamine, and Vitamin B12 in the form of Methylcobalamin.
Other symptoms, such as digestive problems, can be managed through diet, exercise, and if needed, medication. Checking your feet daily for injuries like cuts, scrapes, and blisters, and keeping them clean and dry, will help prevent dangerous infections.