Diabetic Neuropathy

Diabetic Neuropathy: Causes, symptoms & treatment

What is Diabetic Neuropathy?

Diabetic Neuropathy is a complication caused by Diabetes that results in nerve damage. Elevated blood sugar levels can damage nerves throughout the body. It develops slowly over a period of time. The body works based on the nervous system. Nerves enable people to move, send messages to and from the brain, and control involuntary and voluntary functions.

Almost 30-50% of diabetes patients have diabetic neuropathy. Neuropathy can affect any nerve in the body and the symptoms can range from mild to very serious ones. It usually affects the nerves in the legs and feet.

What causes Diabetic Neuropathy?

Even Though the exact cause of diabetic neuropathy is unknown, experts state that uncontrolled high blood sugar levels for a period of time damage the nerves. One other cause can be that high blood sugar weakens the walls of the capillaries and capillaries supply the nerves with oxygen and nutrients. 

There are also other risk factors that make a diabetes patient more likely to be affected by neuropathy. 

Risk factors:

  • High blood sugar levels
  • Smoking
  • Advanced kidney disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Age
  • Overweight
  • Certain medications, usually anti-cancer drugs

Types of Diabetic Neuropathy:

There are 4 different types of Diabetic Neuropathy:

  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Autonomic neuropathy
  • Proximal neuropathy
  • Focal neuropathy

Peripheral Neuropathy:

Peripheral neuropathy, also known as distal symmetric peripheral neuropathy is the most common type of neuropathy. This condition affects the feet and legs first. It may also affect the hands and arms. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Often the symptoms are experienced in the night. One may not feel an injury or sore on the foot if they are affected by peripheral neuropathy. 

Autonomic Neuropathy:

It is the second most common type of diabetic neuropathy. This condition affects the Autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system controls the heart, bladder, stomach, intestines, sex organs and eyes. Hence, Autonomic neuropathy affects these organs. 

Proximal Neuropathy:

Proximal Neuropathy, also known as diabetic amyotrophy is a rare form of diabetic neuropathy. Adults over 50 years old and men are more likely to be affected by this condition. Proximal neuropathy affects the thighs, hips, buttocks. Sudden and severe pain is experienced sometimes. This condition usually affects only one side of the body. It also leads to significant weight loss. 

Focal Neuropathy:

Focal neuropathy, also known as mononeuropathy is a condition that refers to damage to specific nerves or groups of nerves. It causes weakness in that particular area.  This type occurs very suddenly and causes so much pain. The most frequently affected parts are the hand, head, torso and leg. Fortunately, focal neuropathy goes away after a period of time and doesn’t leave lasting damage.

Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy:

The symptoms of diabetic neuropathy vary according to which type the person is diagnosed with. However, there are a few common symptoms that are usually seen in diabetic neuropathy patients:

  • Loss of sense of touch
  • Poor physical coordination
  • Numbness or pain in the affected areas
  • Muscle weakness
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Vision problems
  • Dizziness when standing up
  • Tingling feeling
  • Burning sensation in the feet
  • Either excessive sweating or decreased sweating

Symptoms specific to different types of Diabetic Neuropathy

Peripheral Neuropathy

  • Numbness (inability to feel pain)
  • Oversensitive to touch
  • Sharp pains or cramps
  • Tingling or burning sensation
  • Weakness of muscles
  • Loss of balance
  • Poor coordination

Autonomic Neuropathy:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Gastroparesis
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Pain in the body parts
  • Excessive sweating
  • Decreased sexual response

Proximal Neuropathy:

  • Severe pain in hip, thighs or buttocks
  • Weakness in thigh muscles
  • Difficulty in standing up
  • Severe stomach pain

Focal Neuropathy:

  • Double vision
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • One side of the face paralysed ( Bell’s palsy )
  • Numbness or tingling in the hand or in the fingers
  • Muscle weakness 

Diabetic Neuropathy treatment:

Diabetic neuropathy gets worse over time. Hence, it is important to take the necessary treatment to reduce its effects. Some ways of treatment:

  • Managing blood glucose level is essential in slowing down the progression of diabetic neuropathy. Doctors usually set a target range within which it is necessary to maintain the blood glucose level.
  • It is not always possible to reverse the damage, however, the progression can be slowed down by changing the lifestyle. Quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption can prove to be very helpful in slowing the progression of diabetic neuropathy.

  • The pain caused by diabetic neuropathy can be managed by medications. Anti-seizure drugs are believed to relieve the pain caused by this condition. Antidepressants are also proved to be effective. 

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