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Diabetic Neuropathy Facts

Updated on December 18, 2013

The nerves are very important structures in the body. When damaged, it can cause a lot of detrimental effects on the body’s proper functioning. Diabetic neuropathy is actually a term used by medical professionals to describe a condition where specific nerves in the body are damaged. There are several kinds of diabetic neuropathy; they can be classified according to the number, the location and the type of nerves being affected. Most diabetic neuropathies are not fatal, however, if you do not seek medical attention right away, it can progress into more serious conditions. The best way to avoid the development of this condition is to take care of your body and stay healthy. Sometimes, people don’t take into consideration their habits and lifestyle, which can severely damage the nerves. Living a healthy lifestyle and visiting the physician for regular checkups will definitely help in the prevention of diabetic neuropathy.

1. From the name itself, diabetic neuropathy is mainly caused by the metabolic disease diabetes. If diabetes is controlled, then there will be no problems with the development of diabetic neuropathy. However, the moment you are not properly taking control of your diabetes, blood sugar levels will shoot up and this may cause nerve damage. When glucose levels are high, this can make the blood very viscous, causing a sluggish blood flow. The latter in turn increases pressure in the arterial walls, damaging the nerves contained in these structures.


2. Diabetic neuropathy is hard to identify in the beginning. This condition does not occur overnight; it is progressive and slow acting, the reason why it is difficult to notice. The symptoms of diabetic neuropathy can be perceived as something that can be generally felt by anyone. Tingling and pain in the legs for instance are common when you stay in one position for long periods of time or pain in the extremities is common when you cross your legs. The main problem is people don’t really take these symptoms seriously.


3. If you have diabetic neuropathy, having vices will not help you in any way. Alcohol has proven to deplete essential vitamins that are very useful in maintaining nerve health while tobacco or cigarette contains nicotine that can cause two phenomena: first is vasoconstriction and second, plaque deposits in the arterial walls. These two can aggravate diabetic neuropathy and worsen the condition.


4. Diabetic neuropathy is not only diagnosed through your manifestations; a physical assessment is also very essential to make sure that it is really diabetic neuropathy. Your doctor may order several nerve functions tests or conduct a cephalocaudal examination composed of specific techniques that will help determine the extent of damage in the nerves.


5. To be able to get better from diabetic neuropathy it is best to follow your physician’s advice that is, to control your blood glucose levels and commit to relieving the symptoms of the condition. There is no other way to prevent diabetic neuropathy but to manage its underlying condition, which is diabetes.


6. Along with controlling diabetes is living a healthy lifestyle and even completely overhauling your way of living. Most cases of diabetes are not because of hereditary factors, but they are often acquired. An unhealthy diet for instance, which is mainly composed of sugar or sweets, is a very potential factor in the development of diabetic neuropathy. A sedentary lifestyle without any exercise or activity can as well cause diabetes.


7. Since the lower extremities are the ones mostly affected by diabetic neuropathy, it is safe to always check your foot from time to time. Injuries to the feet go unnoticed in diabetic neuropathy because sensation becomes less and less. This is the reason why there are patients who get their legs amputated because of infection or injuries.


8. Another way to avoid shoot ups in blood glucose levels is to avoid stress. During stress, glucocorticoids are released in the blood stream, which can trigger the release of a hormone called cortisol, a substance that can increase blood sugar levels.


9. There are many supplements in the market that can improve nerve health and trying one of these will not hurt.

Preventing Diabetic Neuropathy

Peripheral Neuropathy - Caused by Diabetes

Peripheral neuropathy is a common complication of the metabolic disease diabetes. However, it can also be caused by other diseases and outside factors such as direct trauma to a certain body part. Peripheral neuropathy occurs as a direct result of nerve damage. Unlike other forms of neuropathy, peripheral neuropathy is less severe, and it is also highly curable. The only problem with peripheral neuropathy is the quality of pain; it is often very severe that the person is unable to carry on with daily activities and may even have to give up certain responsibilities to lessen the pain.


Although peripheral neuropathy is not that severe, there are so many cases where the patient suffers the condition longer than usual. This is because peripheral neuropathy is diagnosed in its later changes; the reason for this is because its manifestations are quite minor that people associate them with stress or even other musculoskeletal diseases such as osteoarthritis. Peripheral neuropathy is no longer a rare condition, because its incidence rate has been increasing over the years. To be able to avoid developing this condition, it is very important to manage underlying conditions and prevent injuries from happening.


What is peripheral neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is a type of neuropathy affecting the peripheral nerves of the body. These nerves are often found in the distal portions of the body such as the legs and the arms. Peripheral nerves play a great role in body movement, detecting sensation and identifying changes in the environment. The skin has millions of nerve endings, so when a stimulus touches it, the nerves will automatically send electrical signals to the specific part of the brain where it is going to be interpreted. After just seconds, the nerves will again carry the information to the effector organ thus there is now the feeling of sensation or pain. Peripheral nerves are also responsible in muscle contraction and commanding the lower and upper extremities to move so any damage on these nerves will greatly cause detrimental effects.

Signs and symptoms
The clinical manifestations of peripheral neuropathy vary from person to person. It also depends mainly on the measures that the patient is taking to relieve such symptoms. The following are the most common signs and symptoms that many patients experience.

  1. Paresthesia and numbness, starting from the hands and the feet, which can later progress going upwards to the arms and the legs
  2. Severe unpredictable pain, which is described as burning or jabbing in nature;
  3. Hypersensitivity to light touch or sensation
  4. The loss of coordination and balance
  5. Inability of the muscles to contract/muscle relaxation
  6. Temporary paralysis that leaves the person unable to stand up or walk
  7. Severe muscle wasting.

Treatment options for peripheral neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy has no exact cure; its treatment is aimed to relieve accompanying manifestations most especially pain. Normally, the treatment for the condition is to manage the underlying case first before peripheral neuropathy is treated. Most medications for peripheral neuropathy are to relieve pain and improve nerve health.


Over-the-counter analgesics are the first line of pain killers that most doctors prescribe. The reason for this is because most OTC drugs are non-opioid, which means that there is a lesser chance of developing an addiction. Opioid analgesics are only prescribed when all other measures no longer take effect; but as much as possible, doctors never prescribe this type of analgesic.


There are also other classes of medications that are used for other diseases but are deemed effective in the relief of pain from peripheral neuropathy. The first class of medication is antiseizure medications. Examples such as Gabapentin, Carbamazepine and Pregabalin are the most common drugs that are used as pain relievers. These medications are used for the disease, epilepsy. As to how it relieves pain, medical professionals are not able to explain it thoroughly yet.


Another type of medication, which is not taken orally, is the lidocaine patch. From the name itself, the lidocaine patch is a type of medication placed in an area where the pain is felt. It contains the anesthetic lidocaine thus numbing pain. However, the lidocaine patch is contraindicated for patients who have cardiovascular diseases because this may aggravate the situation.

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