Diabetic neuropathy is the medical term for nerve disorders that are associated with diabetes. Diabetes can damage nerves in several ways; however, the nerve damage appears to be related mostly to high blood glucose over a long period of time. The risk of developing diabetic neuropathy increases with the duration of the diabetes. Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy vary according to the type of neuropathy but generally include numbness, tingling and pain. Because diabetic neuropathy develops slowly over time, mild cases may go undiagnosed for several years until symptoms worsen. The four types of diabetic neuropathy are peripheral neuropathy, autonomic neuropathy, proximal neuropathy and focal neuropathy.
Peripheral neuropathy: This is the most common type of diabetic neuropathy. The areas of the body affected by this type neuropathy are the feet, legs, hands and arms with the feet and legs being affected before the arms and hands. Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include numbness, burning, and insensitivity to temperature or pain, loss of balance and coordination and pain. Because of the lack of sensation, sores and injuries to the feet and legs may go unnoticed increasing the risk of serious complications from the diabetes. To prevent complications, examine feet and legs regularly, take care of toenails and fingernails, wear proper fitting shoes and keep blood glucose within acceptable levels.
Autonomic neuropathy: This affects the digestive system including the stomach, urinary system and sex organs. Symptoms include bloating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, erectile dysfunction and vaginal dryness. Treatments for this type of diabetic neuropathy vary according to the portion of the body affected by the neuropathy. For instance, if the digestive system is affecting eating smaller portions and medication may be used to treat the symptoms. However, if it is the sex organs that are affected medication, implants or counseling may be used to treat the symptoms. Blood vessels can also be affected by autonomic neuropathy causing dizziness, fainting, increased heart rate and low blood pressure. Treatments include medications and special medical stockings.
Proximal neuropathy: Proximal neuropathy affects the thighs, hips, legs and buttocks. Symptoms are usually contained to one side of the body and cause weakness in the legs in addition to pain. Those with type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk for developing this type of neuropathy, as are older diabetes patients. It is difficult to move from sitting to standing without assistance and the weakness in the legs can cause falls. Treatments for proximal neuropathy include medication for the pain and physical therapy. Keeping blood sugar levels in control helps reduce the risk of developing this type of neuropathy.
Focal neuropathy: Focal neuropathy often appears suddenly, is painful and unpredictable. It affects specific nerves in the head, torso or legs causing pain and weakness. Symptoms of focal neuropathy include double vision, Bell’s palsy (paralysis on one side of the face), trouble focusing, severe pain in the lower back or pelvis, severe chest or abdominal pain, shin pain or pain in front of the thigh. Treatments vary according to the area of the body affected and the severity of the pain; however, this type of focal neuropathy tends to improve over time and does not cause long-term damage.
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse