What is Diabetic Neuropathy?
Neuropathy is damage to the nerves and is a long-term complication. The nerves play an important part in the overall functioning of the body and damage leads to significant problems.
Nerves send signals between the brain and the rest of the body. These signals deliver unique information to specific parts of the body so that a function can be carried out, often without our knowledge. For example, you breathe without thinking because it is an automatic action where the nerves send signals from the brain to the lungs and back.
High blood glucose levels can damage the blood levels that supply the nerves. This prevents essential nutrients from reaching the nerves which causes them to become damaged or disappear.
There are three types of Neuropathy:
- Sensory Neuropathy
In this case, the nerves that carry messages of touch, temperature, pain and other sensations from the skin, bones and muscles to the brain are affected. Symptoms include:
- Tingling or numbness
- Unable to feel pain
- Unable to detect temperature
- No co-ordination
- Burning or shooting pains that be worse at night
What is particularly dangerous for diabetics is the loss of feeling in the feet. Injuries won’t be detected and are likely to develop into infections or ulcers. In rare instances, a complication called Charcot joint is possible. This is when a broken bone in the foot goes undetected and heals abnormally, causing it to become misshapen. Treatment for Charcot joint would be immobilising the foot with a cast or surgery.
- Autonomic Neuropathy
This form of neuropathy affects the nerves which deliver messages to the organs and glands. These nerves would help to control functions that happen automatically without thought, such as the stomach emptying, bowel control, the heart beating, and the function of the sex organs.
As a result, any damage to these nerves will have a significantly negative affect on bodily functions. These include:
- Food can’t move through the digestive system (Gastroparesis)
- Loss of bladder control
- Irregular heart beat
- Problems with sweating
- Erectile dysfunction (impotence)
- Motor Neuropathy
In this case, the nerves that control movement are affected. Damage to these nerves leads to weakness and wasting of the muscles as well as twitching and cramps.
The symptoms of neuropathy, namely nausea, vomiting and erectile dysfunction, can be treated with a variety of medications. Treatment should always be discussed with a doctor so that the best option is chosen.
Good control of blood glucose levels can improve symptoms and reduce the progression of nerve damage.