One of the most common and troubling diabetes associated complications is diabetic neuropathy which affects up to 70 % of all diabetics. Older individuals who have had diabetes for many years and those who have poorly controlled blood sugar levels are at highest risk, but the condition can affect diabetics of any age no matter how long they have had the disease. Little is known about the exact causes of the complication, and treatment options are often less than effective.
Diabetic Neuropathy Effects the Nerves of the Body
The human body is full of nerves. Every human body part from the brain to the fingers and toes has nerve cells. The nervous system is made of wiry tissue that sends signals from the brain down the spine to the rest of the body. It also transmits pain and sensation impulses from the body up to the brain. The nervous system is vitally important in the overall functioning of the human body, impacting everything from the beating of a heart to the itching of a nose. It is often taken for granted until a nerve problem like neuropathy shows up.
The bad news for diabetics is that prolonged high blood sugar levels can damage the functioning of the nervous system. The condition, referred to as diabetic neuropathy, rarely affects the nerves of the brain and spine, but this doesn’t hold true for the rest of the nerves throughout the body. Neuropathy can lead to dangerous and life altering symptoms and is taken quite seriously by medical professionals. Even in mild cases, it is bothersome and life altering.
Here are some alarming numbers regarding diabetes and neuropathy . Of the more than 26 million Americans who suffer from diabetes, more than half are afflicted with at least mild to moderate neuropathy. The longer a person has diabetes, the more likely he or she is to come down with the complication. Managing glucose and A1c levels within recommended levels and living a healthy lifestyle reduce an individual’s risk of developing neuropathy, but cannot offer complete protection. Unfortunately, cases still develop in diabetics with extremely well controlled disease.
The exact causes of diabetic neuropathy are not completely understood, but scientists are finding out more and more about the condition every day. Currently, we know that the condition affects millions, impacting nearly everything in their daily lives and is difficult to treat.
One causation theory of neuropathy is that abundant abnormal proteins, common in diabetics, float around in the blood stream and damage cells. Another proposed cause is that the glucose itself damages blood vessels. The damaged blood vessels then affect blood flow, leading to cell injury.
Diabetic Neuropathy Symptoms
The symptoms of neuropathy are wide ranging and tend to start out mild and worsen with time. On rare occasions, it produces no symptoms or intermittent and very mild symptoms. Each individual explains their symptoms differently.
Three main types of diabetic neuropathy exist: autonomic, focal, and peripheral. The most common type is peripheral neuropathy which causes pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the legs, hands, fingers, toes, and arms.
Focal neuropathy, much rarer than peripheral neuropathy, affects one particular group of nerves and tends to present itself quickly. An example of this type is vision problems which can result from damage to ocular nerves. A high percentage of peripheral neuropathies clear up over a period of a few months.
Autonomic neuropathy, affecting 5 to 12 percent of all diabetics, is often most serious of the
neuropathies types. This form of diabetic neuropathy affects the body processes that do not require conscious thought such as bladder control, digestion, and sexual function. Individuals with autonomic neuropathy can suffer from urinary incontinence, slow emptying of the stomach, other digestive problems, and erectile dysfunction.
The best way of lowering risk of neuropathy is keeping blood sugar levels in check. In fact, very well maintained glucose levels can reduce the risk of neuropathy by as much as 60%. Managing glucose levels can also reduce the severity of symptoms. Exercise is also strongly recommended and may help limit risk.
Diabetic Neuropathy and Your Feet
The feet are commonly affected by both neuropathy and poor circulation, making it essential that all diabetics undergo annual foot exams. This will ensure that any problems are diagnosed and treated early and decrease the risk of serious complications in the future. The leading cause of non- traumatic lower limb amputations in the U. S. is diabetes.
Neuropathy of the legs combines with poor circulation to increase the risk of infection. Blood flow is limited, reducing the amount of bacteria fighting white blood cells, decreasing resistance. Neuropathy causes numbness and decreased sensation in the area, reducing a person’s capacity to feel pain – a warning sign of infection. These two facts create the perfect conditions for a prolonged and untreated infective contamination. Such infections often lead to gangrene and tissue death.
Diabetes and its complications are no laughing matter. If you are one of the tens of millions of Americans affected by diabetes, you should make yourself aware of the many dangerous complications you could develop and take every step within your means to lower your odds. Managing your glucose levels and living the healthiest lifestyle will reduce your risk of complications significantly. Don’t put yourself at risk; do everything you can to avoid development of diabetic neuropathy, poor circulation, kidney disease, heart disease, and increased risk of stroke.