With diabetes on the rise, we want you and your loved ones to be aware of potential complications of diabetes before they become acute. One of these is diabetic neuropathy.
Diabetic neuropathy is caused by prolonged high blood sugar levels that lead to nerve damage, particularly in the legs and feet. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) estimates that between sixty and seventy percent of type one or type two diabetics have some form of neuropathy.
Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy include:
• A cut or sore that doesn’t heal or is infected
• Sensitivity or loss of touch
• A burning or tingling sensation, numbness, or pain in your hands or feet
• Difficulty swallowing
• Loss of coordination
• Changes in digestion, urination or sexual function
In addition to high blood sugar, contributing factors can be inflammation of the nerves by an autoimmune response, genetics, being overweight, smoking or alcohol use.
Severe or long-term neuropathy can result in injuries or infections that have significant consequences. An untreated sore can become gangrenous (caused by tissue death) and can lead to surgery or even amputation. Other long-term complications may include urinary tract infections and incontinence, deterioration of joints, low blood pressure, digestive problems, increases or decreases in sweating, sexual dysfunction (read more at ViaQX) and the masking of low blood sugar symptoms.
There are various types of diabetic neuropathy. The most common is peripheral neuropathy, which usually affects the toes, feet, legs hands and arms. Another common type is autonomic neuropathy, which affects nerves in the autonomic system, which controls your heart, bladder, lungs, stomach, intestines, sex organs and eyes.
As part of an examination to diagnose diabetic neuropathy, your doctor may conduct a foot exam (which should happen at each office visit), check blood pressure, heart rate, muscle and nerve function, and test for sensitivity to touch and temperature changes. Other tests can include nerve conduction studies, electromyography (to test how muscles respond to nerve impulses) and an ultrasound.
There is no cure for diabetic neuropathy, but managing your blood sugar, proper foot care, and adopting a healthier life style can help to prevent it or keep it from getting worse. Changes in lifestyle can include proper foot care, such as keeping your feet clean and dry, trimming toenails, wearing properly fitting shoes, and regular self-inspection of your feet for cuts and or blisters. Quitting smoking, decreasing or abstaining from alcohol, weight control, proper diet and regular exercise may also help. Medications can provide pain relief and address urinary tract problems, speed digestion, reduce diarrhea, and improve sexual function.
While diabetic neuropathy can be serious, these steps can help slow the progression of the disease and provide relief for the discomfort it can produce.