What is Diabetic Neuropathy?
Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can occur if you have diabetes. High blood sugar (glucose) can injure nerves throughout your body. Diabetic neuropathy most often damages nerves in your legs and feet.
It is a serious complication of the condition — potentially affecting as many as 50% of people with diabetes.
The cause of each specific neuropathy is unclear. Researchers believe uncontrolled, high blood sugar damages nerves and interferes with their ability to send signals, leading to diabetic neuropathy.
Diabetic neuropathy has no known cure, but is treatable with medication that relieves pain and manages complications.
Symptoms of Diabetic Neuropathy
There are four main types of diabetic neuropathy and patients can sadly be afflicted with more than one type at the same time.
Your symptoms will depend on the type you have and which nerves are affected. Usually, they develop gradually. You unfortunately may not notice issues until significant nerve damage has already occurred.
Learn more about your specific diabetes neuropathy symptoms, and how they can be treated at The Morrison Clinic™. Schedule an e-consult.
This type of neuropathy is the most common type of diabetic neuropathy, and is also known as distal symmetric peripheral neuropathy.
It affects the feet and legs first, then the hands and arms. Peripheral neuropathy is often worse at night, and its signs can include:
- Numbness or reduced ability to feel pain or temperature changes
- Tingling or burning
- Sharp pains or cramps
- Increased sensitivity
- Serious foot problems, such as ulcers, infections, and bone and joint pain
The autonomic nervous system controls your heart, bladder, stomach, intestines, sex organs and eyes. Neuropathy in any of these areas can cause:
- Bladder or bowel problems
- Slow stomach emptying (gastroparesis)
- Changes in the way your eyes adjust to light
- Decreased sexual response
Proximal neuropathy (diabetic polyradiculopathy)
This type of neuropathy — also called diabetic amyotrophy — often affects nerves in the thighs, hips, buttocks or legs. It can also affect the abdominal and chest area. Symptoms are usually on one side of the body, but may spread to the other side. You may have:
- Severe pain in a hip and thigh or buttock
- Eventual weak and shrinking thigh muscles
- Difficulty rising from a sitting position
- Severe stomach pain
Mononeuropathy (focal neuropathy)
There are two types of mononeuropathy — cranial and peripheral. In other words, affecting your face, or your feet and legs. Mononeuropathy refers to damage to one specific nerve and has been known to lead to:
- Difficulty focusing or double vision
- Aching behind one eye
- Paralysis on one side of your face (Bell’s palsy)
- Numbness or tingling in your hand or fingers, except your pinkie (little finger)
- Weakness in your hand that may cause you to drop things
When to see a doctor
- A cut or sore on your foot that is infected or won’t heal
- Burning, tingling, weakness or pain in your hands or feet that interferes with daily activities or sleep
- Changes in digestion, urination or sexual function
- Dizziness and fainting
The American Diabetes Association recommends screening for diabetic neuropathy immediately after someone is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and five years after diagnosis for someone with type 1 diabetes.
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Diabetic Neuropathy Treatment
While there is no known cure, diabetic neuropathy treatment is effective, with its primary goals being to:
- Slow progression
- Relieve pain
- Manage complications
- Restore function
Slowing progression of the disease
Maintaning your blood sugar in a healthy target range is a form of diabetic neuropathy treatment in its own right, and is the key to preventing or delaying nerve damage. Blood sugar management may even improve your current symptoms. Your primary care physician will determine the best target range based on factors including your age, how long you’ve had diabetes, and your overall health.
Many prescription medications are available for diabetes-related nerve pain. Their results often vary.
Pain-relieving prescription diabetic neuropathy treatments may include:
Anti-seizure drugs: Some medications used to treat seizure disorders (epilepsy) are also used to ease nerve pain. The American Diabetes Association recommends starting with pregabalin (Lyrica). Gabapentin (Gralise, Neurontin) also is an option. Side effects may include drowsiness, dizziness and swelling.
Sometimes, an antidepressant may be combined with an anti-seizure drug. These can also be used with pain-relieving medication, such as an over-the-counter medications.
Managing complications and restoring function
While our South Florida neurosurgeon posseses specialized expertise in leading your diabetic neuropathy treatment, you may need care from different specialists — such as a cardiologist — who can help prevent or treat complications.
Neuropathy-related complications can include:
- Urinary tract problems
- Digestive problems
- Low blood pressure on standing
- Sexual dysfunction
Schedule an e-consult with Dr. Morrison to discuss your diabetes neuropathy treatment options today.
Diabetic Neuropathy Prognosis
The prognosis for diabetic neuropathy, and effectiveness of diabetic neuropathy treatments, depends mainly on how effectively you manage the underlying condition.
Treating diabetes may can both halt progression and improve symptoms of the neuropathy, but recovery is slow. At The Morrison Clinic™, we believe a strong combination of treatment through medication, along with effective blood sugar management, creates the best qualtiy of life in patients with this condition.
Immediately following surgery, I was standing and walking pain free. I am enjoying my life again and have Dr. Morrison to thank!
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We’ll educate you on your specific Diabetes Neuropathy symptoms, and develop a plan for your best quality of life.