Understanding Diabetic Neuropathy – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

In addition to the other damages diabetes can cause, it can also damage the nerves throughout your body.

According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetic neuropathy is the most common chronic complication of diabetes.

Diabetic neuropathy affects 60%-70% of all people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

It can be excruciating and pave the way for other health issues and life-threatening problems like foot ulcers, amputations, heart attacks, digestion problems, and difficulty recognizing low blood sugar episodes to develop.

However, you can do things to prevent or at least slow the progress of diabetic neuropathy, like managing your blood sugar and adopting a healthy lifestyle.

In the article below, we will work to develop a better understanding of diabetic neuropathy, and discuss the common causes, symptoms, and treatments for neuropathy. 

What’s Diabetic Neuropathy?

Diabetic neuropathy is a very serious complication of type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

It’s nerve damage caused by long-term high blood sugar levels that are common with diabetes.

Neuropathy usually develops slowly over a long period of time, sometimes over the course of several decades.

If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes and you begin to experience numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness in your hands or feet, you should see your doctor as soon you can.

These symptoms are early indicators of neuropathy.

The real danger comes when you can’t feel pain and ulcers develop on your feet.

With severe or prolonged peripheral neuropathy, you become vulnerable to injuries or infections because your body won’t send pain signals.

In the more severe cases, this can lead to wounds not being able to heal properly, and infections can lead to amputation.

Several types of diabetic neuropathy will affect different areas of your body and cause a variety of symptoms.

If you do have diabetes, it’s essential to keep up with your blood glucose levels and contact your doctor right away if you notice any early neuropathy symptoms.

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diabetic neuropathy

The Different Types Of Diabetic Neuropathy

There are four main types of diabetic neuropathy.

They include the following:

  • Peripheral Neuropathy: Peripheral neuropathy is a common type of neuropathy for people with diabetes. Peripheral nerve damage affects the peripheral nerves in your feet and legs. It can also affect your hands and arms. Proper foot care is vital with peripheral neuropathy.
  • Autonomic Neuropathy: Autonomic neuropathy is damage to the nerves that control your internal organs. Autonomic neuropathy can lead to problems with your heart rate, blood pressure, digestive system, bladder, sex organs (leading to sexual dysfunction), sweat glands, eyes, and your ability to sense hypoglycemia.
  • Focal Neuropathy: Focal neuropathies are conditions where you have damage to single nerves. This occurs most often in your hand, head, torso, and leg.
  • Proximal Neuropathy: Proximal neuropathy is a disabling but rare type of nerve damage that occurs in your hip, buttock, or thigh. Proximal nerve damage usually affects one side of your body and rarely spreads to the other side. Proximal neuropathy often causes severe pain and may lead to significant weight loss.

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Symptoms of Diabetic Neuropathy

The symptoms you experience with diabetic neuropathy will depend on the type of neuropathy you have.

The symptoms will also vary in severity among patients.

Signs and Symptoms of Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy:

  • Tingling or numbness in your feet and lower legs due to damage to the peripheral nerves
  • Pain or burning sensations often in your limbs
  • Loss of sensation in the feet or lower legs
  • These symptoms can also occur in the hands or arms, although it’s less common

Signs and Symptoms of Diabetic Proximal Neuropathy:

  • Pain on one side of your body in the hips, buttocks, or thighs
  • Weakness in your legs

Signs And Symptoms of Diabetic Autonomic Neuropathy:

These symptoms will depend on the organ system that is involved.

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Blood pressure issues
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting

Signs and Symptoms Of Diabetic Focal Neuropathy:

These symptoms depend on the location of the affected nerve. They can appear suddenly. They usually don’t cause long-term problems, and symptoms often improve over weeks to months.

  • Eye pain
  • Chest pain
  • Vision changes
  • Bell’s palsy
  • Pain in a specific area of your body

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What Causes Diabetic Neuropathy?

We already found out that diabetic neuropathies are caused by high blood sugar levels sustained over a long period of time.

Other factors can lead to nerve damage, like:

  • Damaged blood vessels caused by high cholesterol levels
  • Mechanical injuries caused by conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Certain lifestyle factors like smoking or alcohol use

Having a vitamin B-12 deficiency can also lead to neuropathy.

Metformin, a common medication used to manage diabetes, can decrease your levels of vitamin B-12.

Speak to your doctor and request a simple blood test to identify vitamin deficiencies.

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treatment for diabetic neuropathy

How Is Diabetic Neuropathy Treated?

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for neuropathy caused by diabetes.

But, you can slow its progression.

Keeping an eye on your blood sugar levels and ensuring they stay in a healthy range will decrease your likelihood of developing a form of diabetic neuropathy or at least slow its progression.

Maintaining your blood sugar will also help relieve some of your symptoms.

If you smoke, quitting right away and starting an exercise program if you haven’t already are integral parts of a comprehensive treatment plan for your neuropathy.

Remember to always speak to your doctor before starting a new fitness routine.

Your doctor may be able to recommend complementary treatments and supplements for neuropathy.

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Managing Your Pain

Medications are often used to manage the pain that’s caused by diabetic neuropathy.

Speak to your doctor about the medications that may work with your condition, and be sure to learn about the potential side effects.

Some patients also find alternative treatments like acupuncture helpful. Some have also found capsaicin to be beneficial.

If used in conjunction with medication, alternative therapies can provide additional relief.

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Managing The Complications

Many complications common with diabetic neuropathy can be managed by medications, therapies, or lifestyle changes recommended by your doctor.

If you’re having digestive problems, for example, your doctor may suggest eating smaller meals more often and limit the amount of fiber and fat in your diet.

Your doctor may also help if you’re experiencing issues with your sex organs.

If you have vaginal dryness, your doctor may suggest a lubricant.

If you have erectile dysfunction, they can prescribe medication that can help.

Peripheral neuropathy is prevalent in people with diabetes.

Peripheral neuropathy can lead to foot complications like muscle weakness and chronic pain. In severe cases, it can lead to amputation.

If you are diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, you have to be sure to take care of your feet and get help right away if you have a foot injury or sore.

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Can You Prevent Diabetic Neuropathy?

Keeping your diabetes under control is the best way to prevent diabetic neuropathy.

Your doctor will be able to advise you on the best target range for your blood glucose levels.

Keeping your blood sugar within that range will help prevent neuropathy and other complications related to diabetes from developing.

And as always, avoiding smoking, exercising, and eating a healthy diet will help you prevent neuropathy from developing and lead to better overall outcomes if you have diabetes.

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When Should You See A Doctor?

You should always keep up with your appointments if you have diabetes.

However, you should call your doctor right away if you notice:

  • Cuts or sores on your feet that won’t heal or gets infected.
  • Pain, burning, tingling, or weakness in your hands or feet that interferes with your day-to-day activities or sleep
  • Any changes in digestion, urination, or sexual function
  • Dizziness or fainting

The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes get screened for diabetic neuropathy immediately after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

People with type 1 diabetes should be scanned five years after diagnosis.

Once you’ve reached those thresholds, you should get screened once a year to prevent diabetes-related nerve damage.

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Control Your Diabetic Neuropathy With Ethos Health Group

The best thing you can do to slow the progression of diabetic neuropathy is to see a specialist and devise a care plan. 

Along with your doctor, you and your specialist can manage your symptoms and reduce your pain to get back to enjoying your life. 

When you visit Ethos Health Group, we’ll perform a series of non-invasive tests that tell us just how much your diabetic neuropathy has progressed.

This will let us know what options exist for you. 

The treatment programs at Ethos Health Group consist of cutting-edge, non-invasive therapies designed to stimulate new blood vessels’ growth to help reverse nerve damage in the feet or hands. 

If you’re ready to find relief from your diabetic neuropathy, you should contact Ethos Health Group as soon as possible.

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