This is something for future-you to worry about, right? Diabetic neuropathy is something that usually occurs later in life – so perhaps you don’t need to worry about it now.
If you’re thinking this, then you’d be right that you don’t necessarily need to worry. All you can do is treat your diabetes to the best of your abilities.
At the same time, we’ll have readers who do have neuropathy (hello). And they’ll probably tell you that it’s a good idea to think about avoiding such complications further down the line.
There can be many conditions associated with neuropathy as a result of diabetes: gastroparesis, diabetic nerve pain, reduced motor functions, and more.
It’s not exactly an uplifting topic. However, we want to strike a balance between being informative and being cautionary. Similarly, we want to help you strike a balance between being aware of neuropathy but also to not worry about it too much.
So, don’t worry, be happy, and find out a little about neuropathy right here!
What Causes Diabetic Neuropathy?
As you’ll know, diabetes is essentially where the body is not able sufficiently to lower blood sugar levels by itself. That’s why people with diabetes need to do all the extra work to think for their pancreas.
As such, people with diabetes will, quite regularly, have high blood sugar. Over time, this places strain on the blood vessels, which can permanently damage them. In turn, the nerves – which normally would be supplied by the blood vessels – become damaged because they are not receiving the blood they need from the vessels.
This means that the best way to prevent neuropathy is by having greater control of blood sugar levels. Of course, if it was as easy as that, then nobody would have neuropathy in the first place.
There’s clearly a great deal of effort that goes into taking care of your blood sugar, including counting how many carbs in food, regularly checking blood sugar levels, and taking the right doses of medication, such as calculating insulin. Hedia, however, wants to take that off your plate and do the calculations for you.
Use Hedia for free to try to help with keeping a stable blood sugar. Find it at the App Store and Google Play!
Kinds of Neuropathy
Neuropathy is nerve damage. Diabetes nerve damage specifically leads to what is called diabetic neuropathy. For a closer look, we can explore the three types of nerves and the neuropathies that result from them.
1) Sensory nerves
The sensory nerves help us feel. In other words, the sensory nerves send information about a stimulus (something that has been sensed) to the central nervous system, which connects to the brain. So, if you were to touch something smooth, the sensory nerves would detect this, while the brain would recognise the object as smooth.
With diabetic neuropathy, those nerves have been damaged. This means that physical sensations can become more complicated: it can result in both pain and sensory loss. In particular, this kind of neuropathy will usually start at the hands and feet, making it difficult to feel with those parts of the body.
This can be an additional issue if a person fails to notice harmful stimuli to their hands or feet. As such, an unnoticed infection could be more likely. This is one of the reasons for diabetes foot problems.
Damage to sensory nerves can also impact the areas around the eyes – or the face as a whole – where pain might be experienced, along with numbness or related sensations. This could also lead to diabetes and headaches.
2) Motor nerves
The motor nerves function in the reverse to the sensory nerves. Instead of carrying information to the central nervous system, the motor nerves carry information from the central nervous system. This is how the brain tells a certain part of the body to move.
If these nerves are affected, then moving parts of the body can become more difficult. This kind of neuropathy will usually first reveal itself in the hands and feet with muscle weakness and wasting. This can come with other signs such as twitching and cramping.
3) Autonomic nerves
The autonomic nervous system is responsible for the automatic bodily functions – that is, the muscle and gland activity that we don’t consciously control, such as blood pressure, heart rate, and digestion.
If the autonomic nerves are damaged, the body will struggle with its reflex responses. As such, the results of this neuropathy can be rather wide-ranging, since the autonomic functions are also wide-ranging. The results can include various changes to blood pressure (such as hypotension), sweating abnormalities, and issues with digestion.
One particular digestion problem is gastroparesis which is where the automatic emptying of the stomach doesn’t occur as it should. According to some research, this affects about 30% of people with diabetes (and the prevalence could be even higher for those with type 1 diabetes).
Diabetic Neuropathy Symptoms
Having now looked at what neuropathy is, you might be able to guess some of the following diabetic neuropathy symptoms related to the sensory nerves:
- Persistent aches or sharp pains in a specific area (can also be named diabetic nerve pain)
- Tingling feeling
- Burning feeling
- Numbness in parts of the body
- Over-sensitive to touch (pain or intense sensitivity)
Other symptoms will depend on what kind of condition may develop as a result of the neuropathy. For an overview of other related symptoms, some conditions might give the following:
- Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, which would likely be gastroparesis symptoms
- Irregular bowel movements, which could also be related to gastroparesis or another condition caused by autonomic neuropathy
- Issues with sexual responses – a consequence of autonomic neuropathy
- Urinary issues – another consequence of autonomic neuropathy
- Issues with sweating – you guessed it: it’s because of autonomic neuropathy
- Feeling dizzy (from low blood pressure)
- Issues with the eyes and vision (that’s could stem from damage to all three of the nerve types)
- Weakness in the muscles (from the impact on motor neurons)
How to Treat Diabetes, Gastroparesis, and Related Conditions
If you have diabetes and neuropathy, it’s definitely a good idea to keep treating your diabetes to the best of your abilities. Since high blood sugar is what led to the neuropathy, then keeping blood sugar in check is the solution.
For the neuropathy and its related conditions, the treatment revolves around relieving pain. And so, you’ll likely be prescribed some form of painkiller. You may also be prescribed physiotherapy in order to strengthen muscles and combat pain with exercises.
Of course, if diabetic neuropathy is causing some other complication other than pain, then a doctor will look into how that particular issue can be resolved.
This would be the case with, for instance, diabetes gastroparesis which would require treatment to help the stomach empty. Certain drugs can quell nausea or vomiting, while regular and small meals can help ease strain on the stomach.
Other medication might be pills to treat infection that may arise from other autonomic conditions, such as urinary infections. In other cases, pills may be used for low blood pressure.
What can I do about it?
Whether you’re looking to prevent diabetic neuropathy or to treat it – just relax! No, seriously: relaxing can help you manage your blood sugar. Since stress and diabetes lead to high blood sugar, make sure to take a breather from time to time.
This is a part of taking care of yourself, which will generally help a great deal with most areas in life, including neuropathy. Other ways to take care of yourself is by exercising regularly (and get that blood flow moving), having a good diet (check out our post on food and diabetes), and getting enough sleep.
Take the time to check in on yourself to see how you’re doing, such as inspecting your feet. Maybe even treat yourself and get a full-body massage from time to time!
Otherwise, just carry on being your fabulous self while you manage your diabetes, whilst letting Hedia do the calculations to give you more time to be fabulous! Give it a go at the App Store and Google Play!