Living with diabetes series

Diabetic Neuropathy — What You Should Know

Photo by Jan Romero on Unsplash

Nerve damage from diabetes is called diabetic neuropathy. Some form of nerve damage is common in those suffering from type 1 or type 2 diabetes, especially if they’ve had the condition for some years. If ignored, this can lead to several complications.

By the time I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, my right leg already had some nerve damage from the calf down. I wake up with numb hands. While medications can help, it takes a long time to see any results.

Nerve problems can strike at any time. The risk increases with age in long-term diabetes, especially in those with uncontrolled chronic high blood glucose and blood pressure, besides those who are overweight. In addition to this, low insulin levels, inflammation in the nerves, injuries, genetics, and lifestyle factors such as smoking and alcohol use are also responsible.

Types of diabetic neuropathy

No organ or body part is spared when it comes to nerve damage. Diabetic neuropathy can be broadly of four types and each of these affects different parts of the body.

  • Peripheral neuropathy is the most common and results in loss of feeling in the hands, feet, toes, legs, and arms.
  • Autonomic neuropathy causes changes in digestion, bowel and bladder function, sweating, sexual response. It can also affect the nerves of the heart, affecting blood pressure, the lungs, and the eyes. Another serious complication is when those with low blood sugar are unaware of the warning signs.
  • Proximal neuropathy causes pain in the thighs, hips, buttocks and this may make the legs feel weak.
  • Focal neuropathy causes sudden weakness in a nerve or a group of nerves, resulting in muscle weakness and pain.

The symptoms of neuropathy depend on the type and the nerves involved.

Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy

Over a period of time, nerve damage can spread through the body. While some people feel symptoms, others don’t.

Here are some specific symptoms of diabetic neuropathy to watch out for:

• numbness, tingling, or pain in the toes, feet, legs, hands, arms, and fingers
• wasting of the muscles of the feet or hands
• indigestion, nausea, or vomiting
• diarrhea or constipation
• dizziness or faintness due to a drop in blood pressure after standing or sitting up
• problems with urination
• erectile dysfunction in men or vaginal dryness in women
• weakness
• problems with balance

These symptoms are often accompanied by weight loss and depression.

How diabetic neuropathy is diagnosed

Nerve damage from diabetes is usually diagnosed via a physical exam, symptoms, and some tests. During the physical exam, the doctor checks blood pressure, heart rate, muscle strength, reflexes, and sensitivity to position changes, vibration, temperature, or light touch.

This is followed by a thorough foot exam. Other tests include a nerve conduction test, the heart’s response to deep breathing, and to changes in blood pressure and posture. Ultrasound tests are used to see internal organs.

Treatment options for diabetic neuropathy

The main goal is pain relief, which can be from oral medications, topical applications, and devices based on the condition of the nerve damage.

Can diabetic neuropathy be prevented?

One of the main ways to prevent or delay nerve damage in diabetes is by keeping blood sugar levels on target. Even if you already have diabetic neuropathy, here are some ways to slow down its progress and lessen the symptoms

Make sure blood glucose levels are in your target range

This means planning your meals, exercise, and medications, besides keeping track of your blood sugar with a blood glucose meter.

Get your tests done as scheduled

Diabetics are advised to get an HbA1c test at least twice a year to monitor blood sugar levels and keep them in control. This will tell you whether you need to make any changes to your routine, diet, or medication to help you manage your diabetes better.

Talk to your doctor if you see any symptoms of nerve damage

If you see symptoms of nerve damage, let your doctor know immediately so that treatment can be started. The sooner it is treated, the better as it can avoid future problems.

See a foot infection? Attend to it

Ignoring it can lead to amputation! If you smoke, quit, as smoking can increase the risk of foot problems and amputation.

Check your feet carefully every day

The problem with nerve damage is, even if there is an injury, you can’t feel the pain, and it can become easy to ignore. Look for nicks, cuts, bumps, sores, and any skin breaks. Especially check for corns, blisters, and any swelling and red patches, ingrown toenails, and toenail infections, which are common in diabetes. Use a mirror to see under your feet or request someone close to you to check and tell you.

Keep your feet protected

Care for dry skin. Use a moisturizing lotion on the skin, but avoid the area between the toes. Wear well-fitting shoes and socks.

While washing your feet, use warm water and then, dry them thoroughly.

Check with your doctor about which exercises are okay to do, especially if nerve damage has already set in.

Type 2 diabetes brings its own set of health problems and your doctor may not diagnose peripheral neuropathy as soon as the symptoms are apparent. It is best to be alert and talk to your doctor if you have pain.

In a majority of people diagnosed with diabetes, the main problem is the lack of diabetes education. The Living with Type-2 Diabetes series will cover various aspects of the condition with tips and suggestions to manage it better.

In this series so far:

The ABCs of Diabetes
Blood Pressure and Living with Diabetes
Does Dessert Have a Place in the Diabetes Diet
The Cholesterol-Diabetes Connection
The Diabetes Diet and Living with Type 2 Diabetes
Let’s Bust 10 Diabetes Diet Myths!
Why is Exercise Important in Diabetes?
Why Footcare Plays A Crucial Role in Managing Diabetes
What is the Glycemic Index?

Disclaimer: The information in this post is purely for educational purposes only and does not substitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your physician for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.

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Vidya Sury, Collecting Smiles

Vidya Sury, Collecting Smiles

Writing about Self Improvement, Mindfulness, Meditation, Parenting, Health, Travel, Life, Books. Showing my diabetes who’s boss. Visit: https://vidyasury.com