Diabetic neuropathy is a nerve complication of diabetes that can range from mild to life-threatening. Strict blood sugar management can help prevent diabetic neuropathy, manage diabetic neuropathy symptoms and even slow its progress. Learn about the various types of diabetic neuropathy, including peripheral diabetic neuropathy.
What is Neuropathy?
Your nerves send important messages to the brain regarding:
- How to digest your food and when to pass urine
- When and how to move muscles
- When to sense pain, temperature and touch.
Over time, high blood sugar levels can permanently damage nerve fibers everywhere in the body, causing diabetic neuropathy symptoms.
The American Diabetes Association reports that half of diabetics suffer from one of four types of nerve damage:
- Autonomic diabetic neuropathy
- Peripheral diabetic neuropathy
- Radiculoplexus neuropathy.
Autonomic Diabetic Neuropathy
Autonomic diabetic neuropathy affects the autonomic nervous system that controls the:
- Intestines and stomach
- Sex organs.
Diabetic neuropathy symptoms from autonomic neuropathy may include:
- Difficult eye adjustment from light to dark
- Difficulty exercising
- Difficulty regulating body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate
- Gastro-intestinal problems (loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation)
- Hypoglycemic unawareness
- Increased or decreased sweating
- Sexual dysfunction
- Urinary incontinence
- Urinary tract infections.
Common in older people, this type of diabetic neuropathy affects only a single nerve, typically in the arm, face or leg. Diabetic neuropathy symptoms associated with this condition are usually sudden, including abdominal pain, Bell’s palsy (paralysis on one side of the face), chest pain, and pain in the foot, front of the thigh or shin.
Peripheral Diabetic Neuropathy
The most common type of diabetic neuropathy, peripheral diabetic neuropathy damages the very ends of nerves first, beginning with the feet and legs, followed by the hands and arms.
Common peripheral diabetic neuropathy symptoms include:
- Bone and joint pain
- Burning or tingling feeling
- Extreme sensitivity to even the lightest touch
- Jabbing sharp pain
- Muscle weakness
- Numbness, or less ability to feel pain or temperature changes, especially in the feet and toes
- Trouble walking
- Ulcers, infections and deformities of the feet.
This type of diabetic neuropathy affects nerves close to the hips and shoulders. Type 2 diabetes sufferers and older people usually experience these diabetic neuropathy symptoms:
- Abdominal swelling
- Sudden and severe pain in buttock, hip or thigh
- Trouble getting up from a seated position
- Weakness and atrophy in thigh muscles
- Weight loss.
Preventing and Treating Neuropathy
Since diabetic neuropathy has no cure, treatment usually aims to manage complications, relieve painful symptoms, restore function and slow diabetic neuropathy progression.
In order to prevent diabetic neuropathy or slow its progression, doctors recommend:
- Avoidance of alcohol and tobacco
- Healthy diet and weight
- Proper foot care
- Strict blood sugar and blood pressure management.
Your doctor may prescribe oral or topical medication to manage painful diabetic neuropathy symptoms and help restore damaged bodily functions.
American Diabetes Association. (2010). Neuropathy (nerve damage). Retrieved April 21, 2010, from http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/neuropathy/.
Mayo Clinic. (2010). Diabetic neuropathy. Retrieved April 21, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/diabetic-neuropathy/DS01045.