What You Need To Know About Diabetic Neuropathy

What You Need To Know About Diabetic Neuropathy

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.

Symptoms of Diabetic Neuropathy

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:

  • Sensitivity to touch.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Loss of the sense of touch.
  • Muscle wasting.
  • Nausea and indigestion.
  • Diarrhea or constipation.
  • Excessive sweating or the inability to sweat.
  • Dizziness when moving from a sitting position to standing.
  • Vaginal dryness or erectile dysfunction.

Types of Diabetic Neuropathy

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

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:

  • Muscle pain or cramping.
  • Numbness, tingling, or burning sensations.
  • Insensitivity to hot and cold temperatures.
  • Sensitivity to touch.
  • Peripheral neuropathy can cause a number of complications, including:
  • Muscle weakness and wasting.
  • Loss of reflexes.
  • Changes in mobility and balance, causing foot injuries and deformities.
  • Slow or difficult wound healing.
  • A risk of infection requiring amputation.

Autonomic Neuropathy

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:

  • Digestive problems, including frequent nausea and vomiting, trouble swallowing, and constipation or diarrhea.
  • Masked symptoms of hypoglycemia that can make it hard to accurately monitor blood glucose levels.
  • Erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, and other sexual problems.
  • Incontinence or difficulty emptying the bladder fully.
  • Dangerous shifts in heart rate and blood pressure.
  • An increased risk of heart attack.

Proximal Neuropathy

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

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:

  • Eye problems, including the inability to focus, double vision, and aching behind the eyes
  • Bell’s palsy, which causes paralysis on one side of the face.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Isolated areas of pain, such as in the stomach, shin, thigh, or lower back.

Causes of Diabetic Neuropathy

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:

  • Blood vessel damage due to high cholesterol levels.
  • Smoking, alcohol use, and other lifestyle factors.
  • Injury, such as that cause by carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Low levels of vitamin B-12.

How Diabetic Neuropathy is Diagnosed

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.

How Diabetic Neuropathy is Treated

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.

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