Common complications from diabetes like blindness or gangrene result from diabetic neuropathy. In simple terms, diabetic neuropathy refers to nerve death or damage that occurs when a person has diabetes. Diabetic neuropathy occurs when diabetes becomes uncontrolled or unmanaged for a period of time. Today, studies show that neuropathy is present in up to 50% of people who suffer from diabetes in the world. This number is a cause for concern for medical experts, given that diabetes is a manageable condition.
Diabetic neuropathy varies in severity with the most severe cases resulting in nerve death especially if the condition remains unmanaged over time. Read on to know more about neuropathy and how this can be prevented.
Neuropathy refers to any damage to the nerves in the body. It can be caused by disease, mechanical trauma, or as part of the aging process. Neuropathy can be caused by different factors but the results are often the same. Neuropathy or nerve damage often results in numbness tingling, weakness, and even severe pain in the affected area of the body.
Diabetic neuropathy simply refers to nerve damage or death that results from uncontrolled or unmanaged diabetes and its complications.
The main cause of diabetic neuropathy is diabetes. While the exact cause of specific diabetic neuropathies is not known, neuropathy from diabetes occurs because uncontrolled high blood sugar in the bloodstream damages the nerves. Damage to the nerves affects the ability of the nerves to send signals and this leads to the different symptoms felt by diabetes sufferers.
Over time high blood sugar in the bloodstream also damages the capillaries that supply the body with oxygen and nutrients by weakening the walls. The walls eventually break down. This leads to capillary damage especially in the extremities, poor circulation, and ultimate nerve and tissue death. This is the reason why diabetics are more likely to experience poor wound healing, pain, and discomfort on the extremities, foot ulcers, bone, and joint pain, among other symptoms.
Symptoms of Diabetic Neuropathy
Symptoms can vary depending on the specific type of neuropathy present. However, there are general symptoms that can occur in most patients. These include:
- numbness on the fingers or toes
- reduced sensation or ability to feel pain
- reduced ability to gauge temperature changes
- sharp pain in the extremities
- stomach pain
- hip pain
- reduced healing times for wounds, knicks, scrapes
- increased sensitivity to touch
- infections and ulcers on the extremities
Neuropathic pain is a common symptom across many sufferers. It is often described as a burning sensation on the affected areas, which for diabetics could be in the hands and feet. The affected areas may be sensitive to touch. Some sufferers feel a pins and needles sensation on the hands and feet. In some cases, the sufferer could feel excruciating pain when something as light as a piece of clothing brushes against the affected area. On the other side of the spectrum, sufferers may also experience numbness and the inability to correctly sense temperatures. All these symptoms are signs that nerve damage is already present.
Type of Neuropathy
There are different types of neuropathy that can occur in a person with diabetes. These are:
Focal NeuropathyFocal neuropathy is damage to specific nerves in the body. This can occur on the hands, torso, and leg.
Proximal neuropathy is damage to nerves in the hip, buttocks, or thighs. Nerve damage may result in pain and limited mobility. It can also result in a gradual weakness in the thigh muscles that can lead to muscle atrophy or the shrinking of the thigh muscles.
How to Prevent NeuropathyThe most effective way to prevent diabetic neuropathy is to avoid the risk factors that lead to diabetes. These risk factors include:
- High levels of blood sugar
- Uncontrolled blood sugar in the blood can lead to diabetes. Those with a family history of diabetes are also more likely to develop the disease. Being overweight due to a diet high in processed sugars and fat, along with a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of diabetes and its complications.
- Smoking is also a crucial risk factor. Not only does it contribute to high blood pressure, smoking also narrows and hardens the arteries which can further reduce circulation to the extremities and exacerbate nerve damage caused by diabetic neuropathy.
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- For people who already have diabetes, proper management of the condition is essential to avoid complications. This means making sure that sugar and insulin levels remain normal, blood pressure is regulated and they adopt a healthy lifestyle, including a shift in diet and the incorporation of regular physical activity in the daily routine.
- People with diabetes often need to take regular doses of insulin for life. For many, this may be enough to manage the condition. For others, weight loss programs that include dietary changes and exercises may be necessary to ensure that the complications do not occur.
The Importance of Proper Foot Care
Ulcers and foot infections are common in diabetics due to neuropathy. This is the reason why diabetics have to be vigilant about foot care. Since there is a reduced ability to feel sensations with the hands and feet, diabetics are prone to hand and foot injuries that can go unnoticed until they worsen into ulcers and infections. Daily foot checks are essential because even the slightest knick can turn into a gangrenous ulcer when left unnoticed. Regular neurological exams are also necessary especially for those with foot problems.
Special precautions should also be taken when the person is exposed to extreme weather conditions, such as diabetic footwear and extra layers when going out into the cold during winter months.
Diabetic neuropathy can be a debilitating complication that can affect the sufferer’s quality of life. Fortunately, it is a totally preventable condition even for those living with the diagnosis of diabetes. Proper diabetes management, a healthy lifestyle, vigilance when it comes to foot care, and regular examinations can all reduce the chances of neuropathy.