Nerve damage as a result of diabetes is known as neuropathy. It is most common in those who have had the disease for a long time. Keeping your blood glucose levels under control helps to prevent or delay nerve damage.
Do you suffer from diabetes or know someone who does? Keep reading to find out more about diabetic neuropathy including why it occurs and how to treat it.
What is Diabetic Neuropathy?
Diabetic neuropathy refers to nerve damage which is caused by persistent high blood sugar levels. It is a common and serious complication of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Neuropathy develops slowly, usually over the course of many years. High blood glucose levels cause damage to nerves. Over time, this results in numbness, pain, tingling, and weakness in certain parts of the body.
Different Types of Diabetic Neuropathy
There are four main types of diabetic neuropathy, these are:
The peripheral nervous system refers to the nerves that channel and relay sensory information between the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the body surface.
This is the most common form of neuropathy among diabetics. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy affects the feet, legs, arms and hands. Symptoms can be varied and include numbness, sharp pains and cramping, muscle weakness, loss of balance and sensitivity to touch.
The second most common form of diabetic neuropathy, autonomic neuropathy, affects the internal organs and glands.
Autonomic neuropathy can cause various symptoms depending on which part of the body is affected. If nerve damage occurs at the digestive tract, this can lead to diarrhea, constipation, and trouble swallowing.
If it affects the heart, autonomic neuropathy can cause you to feel dizzy and lightheaded when standing up. It may also cause an abnormally fast heart rate.
This is a much rarer form of neuropathy. Proximal diabetic neuropathy usually occurs in men over the age of 50.
Proximal neuropathy usually affects the hips, thighs, and buttocks. It can also cause severe pain and muscle weakness (especially in the legs). Fortunately, symptoms tend to improve slowly over time, even with no treatment.
Also called mononeuropathy, focal neuropathy is characterized by damage to a specific nerve or nerve group. This causes weakness and pain in a specific area. Most commonly it occurs in the hand, leg, torso or head.
Further symptoms of focal neuropathy include numbness, tingling in the fingers, double vision, aching behind the eyes, and Bell’s Palsy.
Most focal neuropathies go away within weeks or months. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common form of focal neuropathy.
How Is Diabetic Neuropathy Diagnosed?
Your medical doctor will diagnose diabetic neuropathy by asking you questions about your condition and medical history, and performing a physical examination. They will also check to see if you have any of the common diabetic neuropathy symptoms.
Your doctor will first carefully review your symptoms and medical history to determine whether neuropathy is likely. If so, he will check your sensitivity to touch and temperature as well as your heart rate and blood pressure. Your doctor may also check your overall muscle strength and tone.
Your doctor may also order further tests to help make the diagnosis. For example, a filament test is often used to check for any loss of sensation in the limbs and involves brushing a nylon fiber over areas of the skin.
It’s important to note that vitamin B12 deficiency can cause neuropathy. The common diabetes drug, metformin, can decrease vitamin B12 levels. For this reason, your doctor may also order a blood test to check if you have a deficiency.
Diabetic Neuropathy Treatment
The best treatment is always prevention and the best way to prevent diabetic neuropathy is to keep your blood sugar levels within a healthy range.
This can often be done through diet alone. For example, the Paleo diet (especially its low-carb variation) has been shown to improve glucose control and lipid levels for those suffering from type 2 diabetes.
Vitamin D is also important for managing your blood sugar, as diabetics with higher levels of vitamin D tend to have greater insulin sensitivity. Your doctor may therefore decide to check your vitamin D levels or prescribe you a supplement.
Other interventions that can help keep your glucose in check include maintaining a healthy body weight, reducing stress levels, quitting smoking and getting regular exercise.
If necessary, your doctor will prescribe medication to help relieve the symptoms of neuropathy. There are different types of diabetic neuropathy medications.
Certain drugs (such as Neurontin) are used to treat pain associated with diabetic neuropathy. If required, you may be able to buy Neurontin online following a doctor’s prescription.
There are a number of alternative treatments that can ease the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy. It’s important to talk to your doctor about the different treatments available. He may recommend a number of alternative treatments in conjunction with regular treatment.
Capsaicin cream for example can help reduce the pain caused by neuropathy and has shown to be an effective treatment for many people. Alpha-lipoic acid and acetyl-L-carnitine are also effective. These two nutrients function together to improve the symptoms of pain that occur in diabetic neuropathy.
Acupuncture has also proven to be an effective alternative treatment for neuropathy. Acupuncture is safe and does not cause any side effects. Because acupuncture often doesn’t show results after the very first session, multiple sessions are advised.
Reclaim Your Health
Maintaining a positive outlook is always important when working to overcome a chronic condition. Now that you know everything you need to know about diabetic neuropathy, you have all the tools you need to reclaim your health.
If you’re interested in learning more about health and wellness, be sure to check out the health section of our blog.