There are so many of us suffering from diabetes, and we take our condition way too casually. Why is it that we ignore what our healthcare professionals are asking us to follow? Your doctor says that your blood glucose numbers are high, but you feel great. One of the most common misconception is that diabetes is not grave because it’s treatable. You may feel fine while diabetes is taking its toll on your body. Nerve damage from diabetes is called Diabetic Neuropathies.
High blood glucose leads to hearing and visual impairment, affects mental and sexual health, and sleep. Actually, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, amputations and kidney failure. Your risk for strokes and heart attacks are also tripled.
Diabetes not only affects the fine nerves of your hands and feet,but also damages your autonomic nervous system that controls the automatic functions of your body. These functions include your urination, digestion, heartbeat, and sweating.
What are diabetic neuropathies?
Diabetic neuropathies are a family of nerve disorders caused by diabetes. Diabetics can over time develop nerve damage all over the body. Some people with nerve damage have no symptoms. Others may have symptoms such as tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands, arms, feet, and legs. Nerve problems can occur in every organ system, including the heart, digestive tract and sex organs.
About 70 percent of people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy. People with diabetes are always at a risk to develop nerve problems at any time, but it rises with age and longer duration of diabetes. The highest rates of neuropathy are among people who have had diabetes for at least 25 years. Diabetic neuropathies also appear to be more common in people who have problems controlling their blood glucose, also called blood sugar, as well as those with high levels of blood fat and blood pressure and those who are overweight.
What causes diabetic neuropathies?
The causes are different for different types of diabetic neuropathy. Researchers are still finding out how prolonged exposure to high blood glucose causes damage to your nerve. Nerve damage is basically caused due to a combination of factors, let us learn what are they?
Metabolic factors: This includes high blood glucose, abnormal blood fat levels, long duration of diabetes and possibly low levels of insulin.
Neurovascular factors: This is when the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to nerves are damaged.
Autoimmune factors: This causes inflammation in nerves.
Mechanical injury: Includes injury caused to the nerves, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Inherited traits: This increases susceptibility to nerve disease.
Lifestyle factors: Such as smoking or alcohol use.
Symptoms of diabetic neuropathies:
Symptoms depend specifically on the type of neuropathy and the nerves that are affected. While some show no signs of neuropathy. Commonly, the first symptom is often numbness, tingling, or pain in the feet. Symptoms may be minor at first, and because most nerve damage occurs gradually over the years, mild cases may go unnoticed for a long period of time. Symptoms can involve the sensory, motor, and autonomic nervous systems. In people, particularly those with focal neuropathy, the beginning of pain may be sudden and severe.
To put it in points the symptoms may comprise of the following:
- Numbness, tingling and burning sensation, pain in the hands, arms, fingers, toes, feet, and legs.
- Wasting of the muscles of the feet or hands.
- Indigestion, nausea, or vomiting.
- Diarrhoea or constipation.
- Dizziness or faintness due to drop in blood pressure after standing or sitting up.
- Problems with urination.
- Erectile dysfunction in men or vaginal dryness in women.
- Symptoms that are not due to neuropathy, but often accompany it, include weight loss and depression and weakness.
Types of diabetic neuropathies
Diabetic neuropathy are mainly of four types:
1. Peripheral neuropathy is the most common type of diabetic neuropathy, and is caused due to damage of peripheral nervous system. It further leads to pain, weakness and numbness in the toes, feet, legs, hands, and arms.
2. Autonomic neuropathy is caused when the nerves that control involuntary bodily functions are damaged. It affect blood pressure, digestion, bladder function, temperature regulation, lungs, eyes and even sexual response. Autonomic neuropathy can also cause hypoglycemia unawareness, a condition in which people no longer experience the warning symptoms of low blood glucose levels.
3. Proximal neuropathy is a motor neuropathy that affects movements and is the second most common type of neuropathy. It causes pain in the thighs, hips, or buttocks and leads to weakness in the legs.
4. Focal neuropathy is far less common and it results from the sudden weakness of one nerve or a group of nerves, causing muscle weakness or pain. Any nerve in the body can be affected.
Diabetic neuropathy is the most common complication of diabetes mellitus, affecting around 50% of patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Keep Your Blood Glucose Levels in Your Target Range to Prevent or Delay Nerve Damage:
It is very essential to follow a proper routine with a suitable meal plan, ample physical activity and medications, if recommended. This can help you achieve your target range.
The best way to prevent diabetes complications is to control your blood glucose. Keeping your blood sugar levels as close to your goal as possible can often prevent damage or slow down further damage.
There are two ways to keep track of your blood glucose levels:
- Use a blood glucose meter to keep a regular track of your blood glucose level.
- Get an A1C test which is a lab test at least twice a year to find out your average blood glucose for the past 2 to 3 months.
Checking your blood glucose levels regularly will tell you whether your diabetes care plan is working or changes are required to be made.
Immediately report symptoms of diabetic neuropathy to your healthcare professional and get treatment right away.
Talk to your dietician for correct diet plan and follow it religiously.
Be careful with exercising. Some physical activities are not safe for people with neuropathy. Talk with a diabetes clinical exercise expert who can guide you.
Even though there is an array of new medications and monitoring tools available today, keeping diabetes in check asks for constant vigilance. But the benefit is that you will prevent or delay your risk of developing diabetes complications. As, always said- “A stitch in time saves nine”