Diabetic Neuropathy

What is Diabetic Neuropathy?

Diabetic neuropathy refers to a series of nerve damage diseases that are caused by diabetes. Roughly 50% of patients who have been diagnosed with diabetes will end up having a form of neuropathy, but it is more commonly seen among patients who have been suffering with diabetes for several years.

The disorder may present no symptoms at all in some people, but in others it can spread throughout the whole body and cause pain, tingling or even numbness (a total loss of feelings in the affected area).

What are the Symptoms of Diabetic Neuropathy?

Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy will depend upon the type of nerve damage involved. For example, peripheral neuropathy will affect the legs and feet, though the back, abdomen, and arms can also be impacted. Symptoms will include pain, burning, numbness, and tingling.

Another example, autonomic neuropathy could affect the sex organs, urinary system, digestive system, and blood vessels.

Affected digestive system

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, feeling full after a small meal, and bloating.

Affected blood vessels

Symptoms include a fast heartbeat, dizziness, low blood pressure, vomiting, nausea, feeling full sooner than you normally would, and blacking out when standing up too quickly.

Affected urinary system

Symptoms include having trouble emptying the bladder, incontinence, and bloating, and you may have to make more trips to the bathroom during the night.

Proximal neuropathy

Causes pain that is usually only felt on one side of the body, particularly within the buttocks, hips, or thighs. It could also result in weakness within the legs.

Focal neuropathy

Affects nerves within the legs, torso, or head, can cause eye pain, double vision, Bell’s palsy, belly or chest pain, and severe pain in a specific area, such as the legs or lower back.

Diabetic Neuropathy Causes

Diabetic neuropathy is typically caused by a diabetic patient having elevated blood sugar levels for an extended period of time. Because there are four specific types of diabetic neuropathy, the causes for each can be very different.

Although a long-term elevated blood sugar level is the primary cause, other factors can include:

  • Neurovascular complications that can lead to damaged blood vessels and reduced oxygen levels in the blood
  • Autoimmune issues that can cause nerve inflammation
  • Nerve injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Lifestyle factors such as smoking or excessive alcohol consumption
  • Hereditary neurological issues which can cause nerve damage

How is Diabetic Neuropathy Treated?

In order to prevent, or at least delay, the occurrence of diabetic neuropathy, it is recommended that you maintain healthy blood glucose levels. However, if nerve damage has already occurred, keeping blood glucose levels at the appropriate level could delay the occurrence of additional damage.

Treatment includes

There are treatments that are available for those with diabetic neuropathy. These include antidepressants and anti-seizure medications to control pain, as well as medications to treat digestive issues, urinary tract ailments, orthostatic hypotension, and sexual dysfunction.

Diabetic Neuropathy Prevention

The best way to prevent diabetic neuropathy from occurring is to monitor and keep blood glucose levels as close to within the normal range as possible. However, there are treatment methods to slow or prevent worsening of the condition once it is present in a patient. The primary focus is to bring blood glucose levels back to within normal range. This is usually achieved through blood glucose monitoring, diet, activity and through the use of insulin medications.

All other treatments focus on addressing complications associated with diabetic neuropathy such as pain, gastrointestinal issues, dizziness, weakness, urinary and sexual problems. Doctors will prescribe medications to treat pain which can include topical creams for pain or skin dryness and potentially antidepressants which are not just for use in depressed patients. Some complications associated with diabetic neuropathy can be treated or prevented through lifestyle changes. Gastrointestinal concerns can be addressed by eating smaller, more frequent meals and reducing or by removing fatty and greasy foods from the diet. Dizziness and weakness can be reduced by standing or sitting slowly. Diabetic neuropathy can lead to urinary tract infections which are treated through prescribing antibiotics and drinking plenty of fluids to prevent future infections. Sexual complications from the disease, such as erectile disfunction in men or decreased lubrication in women, are also usually treated through prescribed medications and personal lubricants.

Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
December 14, 2017
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