Diabetic neuropathy is a common complication of type 1 and type 2 diabetes
due to uncontrolled high blood sugar levels that result in damage to the
nerves. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), between 60 and 70
percent of diabetics have some form of neuropathy. (ADA)
In cases of severe or prolonged neuropathy, patients may suffer injuries or
infections in their extremities or soft tissue damage that requires amputation.
If you have diabetes and are experiencing numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness
of your hands or feet, you must see your doctor. These are the early symptoms neuropathy.
There are four main types of neuropathy
seen in people with diabetes. The most common form is peripheral neuropathy, or
damage to the nerves that reach out from the brain and spine to all the parts
of the body.
The nerve endings in your legs and arms are the most
commonly affected. Peripheral neuropathy can cause numbness, tingling, and pain
in your extremities.
People with peripheral neuropathy of the lower body may
not feel an injury to one of their feet, or may not feel a sore, which can
The second most common type of
neuropathy in people with diabetes is autonomic neuropathy.
The autonomic nervous system runs the involuntary systems of the body, the systems
that we have no conscious control over. Many body organs and muscles are
controlled by this system. For instance, the autonomic system controls
important organs, including the heart, bladder, and lungs. Autonomic
neuropathy, therefore, can cause problems with your digestive and urinary
tracts, as well as with your eyes and sex organs. A common complaint of men
with diabetic neuropathy is impotence or erectile dysfunction. Cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy, which
affects the heart, is a leading risk factor for death.
A less common form of neuropathy
is proximal neuropathy, also known as diabetic amyotrophy. This form
of neuropathy is more commonly seen in older people with type 2 diabetes. It most commonly affects the
hips, thighs, and legs. Diabetic amyotrophy usually affects only one side of
The final type of neuropathy is focal
neuropathy, or mononeuropathy, which occurs when there is damage to one
specific nerve or group of nerves, causing weakness in the affected area. The pain of mononeuropathy can be extreme, but
it tends to resolve itself over time and usually does not lead to long-term
is important for you to talk to your doctor if you feel you are experiencing
neuropathy. A common medicine used in diabetes, metformin, can lead to lower
B12 levels, which can cause a type of neuropathy. Your doctor and healthcare
team can help diagnose and treat any nerve problems you may be experiencing.
Causes Diabetic Neuropathy?
Diabetic neuropathy is caused by nerve damage, most likely due to a number
of factors such as:
- high blood sugar levels over long periods of
- damage to the blood vessels, such as damage done
by high cholesterol levels
- mechanical injury, such as injuries caused by
carpal tunnel syndrome
- lifestyle factors such as smoking or alcohol use
the Symptoms of Diabetic Neuropathy?
It’s common for symptoms of neuropathy to appear gradually. In most cases,
the first sign is a feeling of “pins and needles” in your feet.
Other common signs and symptoms of diabetic neuropathy include:
- sensitivity to touch
- loss of sense of touch
- difficulty with coordination when walking
- numbness or pain in your extremities
- muscle weakness or wasting
- nausea and indigestion
- diarrhea or constipation
- dizziness upon standing
- excessive sweating
- vaginal dryness in women and erectile dysfunction in
- foot ulcers
- skin infections
How Is Diabetic
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and conduct a
physical examination. During the physical exam your doctor will check your
reflexes and level of sensitivity to vibration, temperature, and touch, as well
as your heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tone, and so on.
To test the feeling in your feet, the doctor may do a simple filament test,
using a nylon fiber to check your limbs for loss of sensation. A tuning fork
may be used to test your vibration threshold. The doctor may also test your
ankle reflexes. .
How Is Diabetic Neuropathy Treated?
There is no cure for diabetic neuropathy, but treatment can slow the
progression of your condition. Treatment can also help you manage symptoms,
such as pain and indigestion.
Keeping your blood sugar levels within a healthy range can slow the progress
of the disease. It can also lead to some symptom relief. Quitting smoking and
exercising regularly can also be parts of a comprehensive treatment plan.
Always have a discussion with your doctor or healthcare team before
beginning a new exercise or fitness routine.
Medications are used to treat pain caused by diabetic neuropathy. Talk to
your doctor about the medications available and their side effects. You may
also want to consider alternative therapies, such as acupuncture. Some people
do find that alternative therapies provide a measure of relief when used in
conjunction with medication.
If you have problems with digestion as a result of your neuropathy, your
doctor may suggest that you eat smaller meals more often and limit the amount
of fiber you eat. If you’re a female experiencing vaginal dryness, your doctor
may give you lubricants. If you’re a male with erectile dysfunction, medication
may be prescribed to address that.
Diabetes is the leading cause of amputation in the
United States. People with peripheral neuropathy
need to take special care of their feet. Make sure to check your feet often for
any cuts or blisters, because you may not feel them forming. Keep your feet
clean and dry, and make sure that your toenails are trimmed and filed properly.
Talk to your healthcare team about proper foot care. If you have signs and
symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, be sure to have your healthcare provider check
your feet at every visit.
Diabetic Neuropathy Prevented?
Diabetic neuropathy is preventable if you manage your blood sugar levels
properly. Be consistent in monitoring your blood glucose levels, taking you
oral medications, and using your insulin (if it has been prescribed). Keeping
your diabetes in check is the best way to prevent diabetic neuropathy.