Diabetic neuropathy is damage to the nerves caused by high blood sugar glucose. There are different types of diabetic neuropathy that can be defined both by the damage being caused and the symptoms experienced by patients.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that screening for diabetic neuropathy begin immediately after someone is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and five years after diagnosis for someone with type 1 diabetes. After that, screening is recommended annually.
Diabetic neuropathy is a serious diabetes complication that may affect as many as 50% of people with diabetes. But you can often prevent diabetic neuropathy or slow its progress with consistent blood sugar management and a healthy lifestyle.
What are the different Symptoms of diabetic Neuropathy?
Depending on the affected nerves, diabetic neuropathy symptoms can range from pain and numbness in your legs and feet to problems with your digestive system, urinary tract, blood vessels and heart. Some people have mild symptoms. But for others, diabetic neuropathy can be quite painful and disabling.
There are four main types of diabetic neuropathy. You can have one type or more than one type of neuropathy.
Your symptoms will depend on the type you have and which nerves are affected. Usually, symptoms develop gradually. You may not notice anything is wrong until considerable nerve damage has occurred.
This type of neuropathy may also be called distal symmetric peripheral neuropathy. It's the most common type of diabetic neuropathy. It affects the feet and legs first, followed by the hands and arms.
- Numbness (which may become permanent)
- Burning (especially in the evening)
Early symptoms usually get better when your blood sugar is under control. There are medications to help manage the discomfort.
What you should do:
- Check your feet and legs daily.
- Use lotion on your feet if they're dry.
- Take care of your toenails. Ask your doctor if you should go to a podiatrist.
- Wear shoes that fit well. Wear them all the time, so your feet don't get injured.
The autonomic nervous system controls your heart, bladder, stomach, intestines, sex organs and eyes. Diabetes can affect nerves in any of these areas, possibly causing:
- A lack of awareness that blood sugar levels are low (hypoglycemia unawareness)
- Bladder or bowel problems
- Slow stomach emptying (gastroparesis), causing nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite
- Changes in the way your eyes adjust from light to dark
- Decreased sexual response
Proximal neuropathy (diabetic polyradiculopathy)
This type of neuropathy — also called diabetic amyotrophy — often affects nerves in the thighs, hips, buttocks or legs. It can also affect the abdominal and chest area. Symptoms are usually on one side of the body, but may spread to the other side.
- Severe pain in a hip and thigh or buttock
- Eventual weak and shrinking thigh muscles
- Difficulty rising from a sitting position
- Severe stomach pain
Mononeuropathy (focal neuropathy)
There are two types of mononeuropathy — cranial and peripheral. Mononeuropathy refers to damage to a specific nerve.
- Difficulty focusing or double vision
- Aching behind one eye
- Paralysis on one side of your face (Bell's palsy)
- Numbness or tingling in your hand or fingers, except your pinkie (little finger)
- Weakness in your hand that may cause you to drop things
When to see a doctor for Diabetic Neuropathy?
Call your doctor for an appointment if you have:
- A cut or sore on your foot that is infected or won't heal
- Dizziness and fainting
- Burning, tingling, weakness or pain in your hands or feet that interferes with daily activities or sleep
- Changes in digestion, urination or sexual function