Diabetic Neuropathy - Types, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

Updated on & Medically Reviewed by Dr Lalitha
Diabetic Neuropathy

Diabetic neuropathy is a common complication of diabetes that affects the nerves throughout the body. It occurs when high blood sugar levels damage nerve fibers.

Symptoms of Diabetic Neuropathy:

Symptoms may vary a little from person to person and also based on severity and duration of diabetes.

  • Numbness or Tingling: This is often the first symptom and usually affects the feet and legs, but can also occur in hands, arms, and other parts of the body.
  • Pain: Nerve damage can cause burning, sharp, or stabbing pain, particularly in the feet and legs.
  • Weakness: Muscle weakness can make it difficult to walk, stand, or grip objects.
  • Loss of Balance and Coordination: Damaged nerves can affect your sense of balance and proprioception (awareness of body position), increasing the risk of falls.
  • Changes in Skin Temperature and Sweating: Nerves control sweating and temperature regulation, so neuropathy can cause the skin to feel hot or cold even when the actual temperature is different.
  • Digestive Problems: Neuropathy can affect nerves controlling digestion, leading to constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and bloating.
  • Urinary Problems: Bladder and urinary tract nerves can be affected, leading to bladder control problems like incontinence.

Types of Diabetic Neuropathy:

There are four main types of diabetic neuropathy.

  1. Peripheral Neuropathy: This is the most common type, affecting the nerves in the hands and feet, i.e. the periphery of the body.
  2. Autonomic Neuropathy: This affects nerves controlling involuntary functions like heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and bladder control.
  3. Proximal Neuropathy: This affects nerves in the thighs, hips, buttocks, and legs.
  4. Focal Neuropathy: This affects specific nerves, leading to sudden weakness or pain in a particular area. This neuropathy doesn’t occur all over the body, it is more localised to certain areas.

Risk Factors for Developing Diabetic Neuropathy:

Everyone with Diabetes may not develop Diabetic neuropathy. Some people are at a more risk. Following are a few risk factors.

  • Uncontrolled High Blood Sugar Levels: The longer and higher your blood sugar levels, the greater the risk of nerve damage.
  • Duration of Diabetes: The longer you have diabetes, the higher the risk of neuropathy.
  • Poorly Managed Diabetes: Not following your diabetes treatment plan, including diet, exercise, and medication, increases the risk of complications like neuropathy.
  • Other Health Conditions: Obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking can worsen neuropathy.

What Does Diabetic Neuropathy Do to the Patient?

Diabetic neuropathy has a lot of impact in the day to day activities of the patient. It can hinder their quality of life and can also lead to the inadvertently harming themselves.

Physical Impacts:

  • Mobility Issues: Numbness and weakness in the feet and legs can make walking, standing, and climbing stairs difficult, increasing the risk of falls and injuries.
  • Balance and Coordination Problems: Loss of proprioception (body awareness) can make tasks like reaching for objects, carrying groceries, or dressing oneself challenging.
  • Pain and Discomfort: Burning, stabbing, or shooting pain in the extremities can disrupt sleep, reduce physical activity, and make even simple tasks painful.
  • Digestive Problems: Nausea, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea can affect appetite, nutrition, and overall well-being.
  • Urinary and Sexual Problems: Bladder control issues like incontinence or urinary urgency can be embarrassing and socially isolating. Sexual dysfunction is also a common symptom for both men and women.

Emotional Impacts:

  • Frustration and Anxiety: Constant pain, reduced mobility, and dependence on others can lead to frustration, anxiety, and even depression.
  • Fear of Falls and Injuries: The increased risk of falls can create fear and anxiety, leading to reduced activity and social isolation.
  • Relationship and Social Limitations: Physical limitations and pain can impact social activities and relationships, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • Reduced Quality of Life: In severe cases, the cumulative effects of these challenges can significantly reduce a person's quality of life and overall well-being.

Treatments for Diabetic Neuropathy:

  • Strict Blood Sugar Control: Managing your blood sugar levels is the most important step in preventing further nerve damage and improving existing symptoms.
  • Pain Management: Medications, over-the-counter pain relievers, and physical therapy can help manage pain.
  • Nerve Stimulation: Devices that send electrical signals to the nerves can help ease pain and improve sensation.
  • Surgery: In rare cases, surgery may be necessary to correct some nerve damage.

Managing Symptoms and Preventing Complications:

  • Foot Care: Inspect your feet daily for cuts, blisters, and other injuries. Wash and dry them thoroughly and wear comfortable shoes that fit well.
  • Skin Care: Moisturize your skin regularly to prevent dryness and cracking.
  • Healthy Lifestyle: Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight all contribute to good overall health and can help manage symptoms.
  • Regular Checkups: See your doctor regularly to monitor your diabetes and neuropathy.

Diabetic neuropathy is a serious complication of diabetes, but it can be managed. With proper treatment and lifestyle changes, you can control your symptoms and prevent further nerve damage.

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Disclaimer: The information provided on this page is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, please talk to a healthcare professional.

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