One complication that can arise from diabetes is Diabetic Neuropathy, or nerve damage.It's estimated that nearly half of all diabetes sufferers have some form of neuropathy, but may not show any signs or symptoms (1). Diabetics are more likely to suffer from nerve damage if they are over forty, have difficulties in controlling their glucose levels, are overweight, or have high blood pressure (1). If a patient is going to develop a neuropathy, symptoms may not be seen until ten to twenty years after a diabetes diagnosis (2). General symptoms of neuropathy usually begin in the feet. Tingling, pain or numbness will usually be felt. Oddly, pain and numbness may be experienced at the same time, in some cases.
Types of Neuropathy
Diabetic Neuropathy can be classified into four different areas, depending on what part of your body is affected. We're going to examine each neuropathy, in detail, along with it's accompanied symptoms.
Also known as lumbosacral plexus neuropathy or diabetic amytrophy, proximal neuropathy affects the lower half of the body. The legs often become weak due to the pain one experiences in the buttocks, thighs and hips. Difficulty in moving from a seated position to a standing one, without receiving assistance, may be noted.
Autonomic neuropathy develops when the autonomic nervous system sustains harm. This nervous system controls many of the involuntary body functions. Nerves in the circulatory system may not be able to regulate heart rate and blood pressure. This could lead to fainting or feeling light-headed. If the digestive system has nerve damage, difficulty swallowing, bloating, constipation, uncontrollable diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite may result. When the nerves in the eyes are affected, a person may not be able to see well enough to drive in the dark. Profuse sweating may result if the sweat gland nerves are damaged. Erectile dysfunction and other sexual dysfunctions (not including loss of libido) may be present in males or females that have received harm to the nerves controlling the sexual organs.
Peripheral Neuropathy Peripheral neuropathy results in abnormal sensations being felt in the extremities. The feet and legs are generally troubled first, sometimes followed by the arms and hands. The sensations commonly felt are burning, tingling, pain and cramping. A person may also have a lack of feeling in this area. Another symptom may be that the skin is overly sensitive, even to the lightest contact. If peripheral neuropathy is allowed to continue, other symptoms may arise, such as blisters on the feet that could lead to infection, and foot deformities.
Focal neuropathy is a sudden affliction. It may attack the cranial area. The eyelids may become droopy or the eyes may experience focusing difficulties. Other senses such as hearing and taste may also be afflicted. The unpredictable nature of this neuropathy makes it hard to determine what area it may strike. It has been known to paralyze facial muscles, masquerade as a heart attack or appendicitis. Additionally, a person's torso (including stomach, chest, lower back and pelvic area) and legs (especially the flank, front of thigh and side of foot) may be attacked quickly with severe pain.
How to Treat and Prevent Diabetic Neuropathies
Treatment varies depending on which nerve damage has occurred. For pain management, Analgesics are often prescribed, if over-the-counter pills aren't effective. Anticonvulsant medications may be used to help with the burning or tingling sensations. Keeping blood sugars in an optimum range is the key in both treatment and preventing progression of additional nerve damage.