Neuropathy is a common complication of diabetes, a type of nerve damage that typically results in tingling sensations, pain, numbness and muscle weakness. The causes are uncontrolled high blood sugar (glucose) levels and decreased blood flow.
There are four main types of neuropathy and the symptoms you may experience depend on which nerves are affected and the type of nerve damage you have. Typically, the symptoms develop slowly over time. Therefore, it's important to be able to recognize what they are so you can take action to prevent the problem from getting more severe.
This is the most common type of nerve damage for people with diabetes and typically affects the feet and legs first and later the arms and hands. Symptoms can include:
- Sharp pains and cramps
- Tingling or burning sensation in your feet
- Serious foot problems such as sores and ulcers
- Bone and joint pain in the foot
- Numbness or weakness
- Increased sensitivity to touch
- Loss of ability to feel changes in temperature
- Loss of coordination
One of the problems of peripheral neuropathy is the loss of feeling in the feet. This is dangerous because you may not notice or feel minor cuts or other injuries, for example, if you step on a sharp object. If ignored, these wounds could develop infections or ulcers.
Autonomic nerve damage affects your internal organs such as your stomach, bladder, heart, sex organs or eyes. Symptoms may include:
- Bowel or bladder problems that can cause diarrhea, urine leakage and constipation
- Decreased sexual response (vaginal dryness for women and trouble getting an erection in men)
- Loss of appetite and vomiting
- Eyes are slow to respond to changes in light and darkness because of damage to the nerves in your pupils
Focal nerve damage affects single nerves, usually in the legs, hands, head and torso. Symptoms can include:
- Difficulty focusing or having double vision
- An ache behind one eye
- Tingling or numbness in hands or fingers
- Hand weakness that may mean you drop things
Proximal nerve damage typically affects nerves of the hips, buttocks, legs or thighs. Symptoms can include:
- Sudden and sometimes severe pain in a hip and thigh or buttock
- Weight loss
- Loss of muscle tissue
- Weakness in your legs that can make it challenging to get up from a sitting position
Risk Factors for Neuropathy
Anyone with diabetes can develop neuropathy, but certain factors can increase your risk. Among them are being overweight, smoking, being older than 40, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and blood sugar levels that are difficult to manage. Diabetes history is also a significant risk factor. Your risk increases the longer you have the metabolic disorder, especially if your blood sugar levels aren´t well controlled.
Treatments for Neuropathy
The type of neuropathy treatment depends on the cause and the complications. The goal is to relieve pain, slow the condition's progression, manage symptoms and treat the underlying cause. If the cause is diabetes, you will need to keep tight control of your blood sugar levels to prevent the nerve damage from getting any worse.
Often medications are prescribed to deal with the pain. These may include antidepressants, even if you're not suffering from depression. This is because some such as tricyclic antidepressants can alleviate mild pain.
To manage complications, you may need to see different specialists such as a cardiologist for heart problems and a urologist for urinary tract issues.
How To Prevent Nerve Damage
The good news for people with diabetes is you can prevent or delay neuropathy from happening by managing your blood sugar levels and keeping them as close to your target range as possible.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends the following target blood sugar levels.
- 80 and 130 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or 4.4 to 7.2 millimoles per liter (mmol/L) before meals
- Less than 180 mg/dL (10.0 mmol/L) two hours after meals.
Other preventative measures include:
- Losing weight if you are overweight
- Following your healthcare provider´s advice about foot care
- Limiting your alcohol intake
- Sticking to a healthy eating plan
- Getting regular physical activity such as walks over the park if you´re able to
- Taking medications that are prescribed to you
Contact The Team at MINT
Here at the Midwest Institute for Non-Surgical Therapy (MINT), we offer a comprehensive program of treatments for diseases of the veins and arteries, including those caused by diabetes.
Although neuropathy is not a vascular condition, nerve damage can often lead to pain. Dr. Goke Akinwande and his friendly and experienced team will be able to devise a customized treatment to alleviate your pain. For more information, schedule an appointment at a MINT clinic near you. We have at 5 clinics located in Missouri and Illinois, including Chicago.