Overview of diabetic neuropathy
The term “neuropathy” describes any condition that destroys the nerve cells. Nerve cells play very vital roles in sensation, movement, and touch.
Diabetic neuropathy refers to nerve damage due to diabetes. Clinicians and medical researchers think that hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) in diabetic people will damage the nerves over time.
There are different types of neuropathies. They include:
- Peripheral neuropathy: This is characterized by numbness and pain in the extremities, like the toes, feet, legs, hands, and arms.
- Proximal: There is numbness and pain in the upper legs, especially the hips, thighs, and buttocks.
- Autonomic neuropathy: The main features are damage to the nerves of the autonomic nervous system, which controls sweating, sexual response, digestive, and urinary function.
- Focal: It is characterized by loss of nerve function resulting in weakness and pain in the muscles.
Neuropathy is a common complication of diabetes. Studies suggest that over 60 – 70 percent of diabetic people are affected by some sort of neuropathy throughout their lives.
According to estimates, over 48 million people in the United States will be diagnosed with diabetes by 2050. This implies that at least 29 million Americans may have diabetic neuropathy in the nearest future.
How can I manage my diabetic neuropathy?
The fact is, it is impossible to reverse nerve damage caused by diabetes. Your body cannot repair nerve tissues that have been damaged.
Medical researchers are in the middle of creating methods of treatment of nerve damage caused by diabetes.
Although it may be difficult to reverse damage from neuropathy, there are ways to manage the condition. These include:
- Treating nerve pain
- Lowering your blood sugar
- Checking your feet regularly to ensure that they are free of infection, wounds, or injury.
Managing blood glucose is very important as it helps to prevent further damage to your nerves. Blood glucose can be managed through the following methods:
- Avoid sugary foods such as sodas, coffees, sweetened drinks, candy bars, processed snacks, and fruit juices.
- Eat fiber-rich foods. These foods maintain blood sugar levels.
- Eat foods that are rich in healthy fats. Examples of foods with healthy fats include nuts and olive oil.
- Eat lean proteins like turkey and chicken.
- Eat plant-based proteins and vegetables, like tofu and beans.
- Engage in regular exercise – five times a week will be okay. Include weight training and aerobic activity in your exercise routine.
- Always monitor your blood sugar levels. It is very important. With this, you can identify changes in your sugar levels.
- Take oral medications like metformin, or insulin according to your doctor’s instructions.
Alongside managing your blood glucose levels, you must take good care of your feet and your legs. The nerves in your feet and legs may be damaged, resulting in reduced feeling. And so, if you sustain injuries on your legs, you may not notice it.
The following tips will help to prevent damage to your legs or feet:
- Clip your toenails
- Check your feet regularly for sores or open wounds
- Visit your podiatrist regularly
- Wash your feet regularly with water and soap
- Avoid walking barefoot
Treatment for diabetic neuropathy
Some medications have been identified as the most effective for the treatment of painful diabetic neuropathy. These medications are recommended by the American Academy of Neurology. They include:
Other medications that may help include:
- Capsaicin (a topical medication)
One of the key ways of reducing symptoms is glucose management. Make this a part of your treatment plan.
Off-label drug use
Off-label drug use means using a drug that has been approved by the FDA for a particular purpose for an entirely different purpose for which it hasn’t been approved. Some doctors can still use the medication for that purpose.
The FDA is the agency responsible for the testing and approval of medications. However, it doesn’t regulate how doctors use the drug. So, your doctor may prescribe a medication that he or she thinks is best for your condition.
Complications for diabetic neuropathy
Your nerves play very important roles in your body. And that’s why diabetic neuropathy can trigger several complications.
Damage to your nerves can affect the organs in your digestive system. The result may be:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Impaired hunger
Diabetic neuropathy can also affect the movement of food within your intestines and stomach. This can result in poor nutrition, and consequently, poor management of blood sugar levels.
People who have autonomic neuropathy may experience some kind of sexual dysfunction. The nerves that supply your sexual organs may be damaged. This may result in:
- Erectile dysfunction (in men)
- Problems with vaginal lubrication and sexual arousal in women
- Impaired stimulation in both genders.
Leg and feet infection
Nerves supplying your feet and legs are most prone to damage by neuropathy. This can cause loss of sensation to your legs and feet. Cuts and sores may go unnoticed, resulting in infections.
Sometimes, the infections may become so severe that it leads to ulcers. This causes severe damage that leads to loss of toes.
Damage to the leg joints
The diabetic neuropathy may damage the nerves in your legs leading to a condition called a Charcot’s joint. This results in numbness, swelling, and lack of stability of the joint.
Reduced or excess sweating
Your nerves regulate the workings of your sweat glands. And so, damage to your nerves can affect how well your sweat gland functions.
This may lead to reduced sweating. Clinically, it is known as hyperhidrosis. Hyperhidrosis may affect the regulation of your body temperature.
Problems with urination
Your nerves are involved in the control of your bladder as well as the management of the entire urinary system. If these nerves are damaged, you will be unable to control your bladder.
What else can cause neuropathy?
Diabetes is the primary cause of neuropathy. However, other conditions may also cause it. They include:
- Exposure to toxins
- Alcohol use disorder
- Abnormal levels of B and E vitamins
- Autoimmune diseases and infections
- Trauma leading to nerve pressures.
- A side effect of chemotherapy and other medications.
Diabetic neuropathy is a common condition. It is also irreversible. However, it can be managed through a variety of ways, such as:
- Management of blood glucose levels
- Regular examination of your legs and feet for injury
- Taking the right medications as prescribed by your doctor
- Working closely with your doctor to manage your condition.
Learn more >>>> Evict the Sugar: A Handbook of Prediabetes