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How Does Diabetes Cause Neuropathy?

Oct 01, 2019
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People with diabetes may be at risk for severe and often painful nerve damage. Read on to learn more about how symptoms of diabetes are linked to neuropathy and how you and your physician can treat this condition.

A common misconception about diabetes is that it is a painless condition that presents little to no risks or concerns. Patients who have diabetes often report feeling a tingling sensation in their toes or pain in their feet. Diabetic neuropathy is a common complication associated with diabetes whose symptoms range from slightly aggravating to potentially life-threatening.

At Commonwealth Pain and Spine, our health specialists can evaluate your symptoms and determine if your diabetes is causing neuropathy. 

What is diabetic neuropathy?

Diabetic neuropathy (DPN) is a diabetes-related condition that affects the nerves that sit near the surface of your skin. Patients who have type 1 or type 2 diabetes are at risk for this type of nerve damage. Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy typically occur in the hands and feet, causing pain and feelings of numbness. In more severe cases, this condition can cause issues with your digestive system, urinary tract, heart, and blood vessels. 

How does diabetes trigger neuropathy?

Medical professionals are still trying to determine how diabetes harms nerve cells. High blood sugar levels seem to be responsible for killing off these nerve cells. Other factors such as damage to the blood vessels caused by high cholesterol, injuries brought on by carpal tunnel, habitual smoking or alcohol use, obesity, and high triglycerides may also result in diabetic neuropathy. Keeping blood sugar levels under control by exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and quitting smoking may prevent or slow the progression of developing this condition. 

Diagnosing diabetic neuropathy 

One of our specialists examines your medical history and conducts a physical examination during your initial visit. They measure your level of sensitivity to temperature and touch using a filament test. Tests may be conducted to examine your heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tone. You should disclose any painful symptoms you’re experiencing. 

Some common symptoms of neuropathy include

  • Pain in your hands or feet 
  • Diarrhea or constipation 
  • Muscle weakness or fatigue 
  • Sensitivity to touch 
  • Difficulty walking 
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Bladder issues 
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Double vision 

The discomfort that results from nerve damage arises gradually. In most cases, patients report feeling a sensation of “pins and needles” in their feet. The symptoms you experience vary depending upon the area that is affected. 

What are the different types of diabetic neuropathy?

Several types of nerve damage can exist in people with diabetes. These are the four types of neuropathy disorders: 

1. Peripheral neuropathy 

Peripheral neuropathy affects the feet and legs. People with diabetes who suffer as a result of poor circulation often have trouble feeling injuries or sore in these areas. This makes it more difficult for wounds to heal, increasing the risk for infection that could lead to amputation in extreme cases. 

2. Autonomic neuropathy

Autonomic neuropathy occurs when there is damage to the nerves that manage functions, including those that control blood pressure, heart rate, sweating, bowel movements, and digestion. Your autonomic nervous system controls many of your organs and muscles. 

3. Proximal neuropathy 

Proximal neuropathy is rare and most commonly seen in people over 50 years old who have type 2 diabetes. It often affects the thighs, hips, and buttocks. Muscle weakness may occur in your pain as well as sudden, severe pain. Symptoms do not tend to improve over time and eventually begin getting worse if left untreated. 

4. Focal neuropathy 

Focal neuropathy, also known as mononeuropathy, occurs in your hands, head, torso, or leg. Damage to a specific nerve or group of nerves may result in weakness or sudden and severe pain. Symptoms tend to go away in a few months and leave no long-term damage. 

Treating diabetic neuropathy 

Depending upon the type of neuropathy you’re experiencing, one of our doctors suggests certain medications of therapies to address the pain. Some lifestyle changes may be recommended to help ward off future symptoms and complications. With the proper care, you can slow the progression of this condition and reduce future damage to your nerves.

If you’re developing painful symptoms that may be the result of diabetic neuropathy, call our office, or book an appointment online.