What is Diabetic Neuropathy?
Diabetes Mellitus which is commonly called as diabetes is a serious illness that is caused by the presence of high blood sugar in the blood stream over a prolonged period. As of 2015, 30.3 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes and it claims to be the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. One of the most dangerous side effects of diabetes is diabetic neuropathy which refers to nerve disorders. Whether you or your loved one has diabetic neuropathy, the first step is understanding what it is and how you can tackle it. This article seeks to do just that by informing and educating you about various aspects of diabetic neuropathy.
Types of Diabetic Neuropathies
Diabetic neuropathy has several classification systems but the most common method of classifying it is called as the Thomas method. This method distinguishes between the neuropathies depending on the group of nerves that it affects. Diabetic neuropathy is classified into four types.
- Peripheral – This type of neuropathy affects the nerves in the peripheral part of the body such as toes, fingers and legs causing tingling, pain or even loss of sensation in the affected parts of the body.
- Autonomic – This type of neuropathy affects the nerves that control the autonomous systems of the internal organs such as heart, lungs and sex organs. These nerves also control the functioning of the body making your heart beat and your lungs to inhale oxygen. Therefore, this type of neuropathy is extremely dangerous.
- Proximal – This type of neuropathy affects the lumbar system that consists of the thigh, hips and buttocks regions. The pain usually occurs only in one side of the body and may eventually spread to all regions.
- Focal – This type of neuropathy is also called as mononeuropathy and causes damage to a specific group of nerves. This may include affecting nerves that control eyesight, parts of your chest or abdomen.
Signs and Symptoms
There are several symptoms of diabetic neuropathy depending on the group of nerves affected and can include any one of the following. Consult a doctor immediately should any of the following occur.
- Bladder or urinary tract problems
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- Erectile dysfunction in men and vaginal dryness in women
- Sudden loss of weight
- Difficulty in moving, walking or running
- Chest or abdominal pain
It is also important to perform annual preventive check-ups periodically. Since most insurance providers now cover preventive treatments, there is no more excuse. Routine blood work will help identify the presence of high blood sugar which will enable you to catch diabetes early.
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, visit your doctor regularly to have physical examinations. As part of the physical examination your doctor may do a foot exam which involves testing your sensory nerves on the foot to see if you can feel and sense touch in those parts. In addition to such preliminary examination, a doctor may perform additional tests such as electromyography or ultrasound before confirming the presence of diabetic neuropathy.
If you have not been diagnosed with diabetes mellitus and you do not have regular preventive health check-ups, then it is crucial to pay attention to changes in your body. For example, if you fall and hurt yourself and you find that the wound is not healing as fast as it should, consult a doctor immediately.
Unfortunately, diabetic neuropathy has no known cure but limited treatment methods are available to manage the underlying symptoms. The best method to treat diabetic neuropathy is to treat the underlying causal agent – diabetes mellitus. This in turn can be controlled by keeping a tight leash on the blood sugar levels. Your doctor may also prescribe pain management drugs to help deal with the pain.
Depending on the specific type of neuropathy you have your doctor may also additionally prescribe drugs that help in managing complication and restoring function for the affected nerves. For example, in case of digestive problems associated with diabetic neuropathy, most practitioners will recommend dietary changes such as eating liquid or semi-solid foods.
Alternative and non-traditional treatment techniques are also available and includes
- Increase intake of certain food such as bell pepper and chilli which is rich in capsaicin
- Intake of alpha-lipoic supplements that help manage the pain
- Acupuncture has also been known to help with treatment of pain
Although certain types of diabetes may be genetically induced, it is very much possible to prevent diabetes and thus diabetic neuropathies by following
- Regular exercise regimen
- Quitting smoking
- Avoid drinking alcohol or drink only in moderation as allowed by your physician
Other diseases that are related to diabetic neuropathy includes
- hypotension or low blood sugar
- pinched nerves on various parts of the body
- Radiculopathy or damage to the spinal nerves
- Carpal tunnel syndrome affecting the wrists
Coping with the disease
If you are afflicted with diabetic neuropathy, do not worry. There are several support groups out there depending on where you are located. Check on Facebook or talk to your therapist for local support group recommendations. Having a support system comprised of other patients, friends, family and relatives who offer constant encouragement is crucial to battling diabetic neuropathy. It is important to know that you can always adopt a healthy lifestyle that will prevent you from exacerbating the illness. Even though it is a lifelong tribulation, it can certainly be managed through a combination of healthy lifestyle, diet and exercise.
Do remember that there are several million people who go undiagnosed and untreated for diabetes. People who are unaware of their condition go about their normal routine and realize only too late about the lifestyle changes they need to make. So, if you have caught it early, then it is an important point in your favour. Ensure that you see a doctor right away and seek appropriate treatments. Keep your chin up and keep fighting through!
© 2017 WriterAimz