The Relationship Between Diabetes and Neuropathy
Sometimes diabetes can really get on your nerves – literally!
I apologize – that’s a really bad joke about diabetes and neuropathy, a potentially serious side effect of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. It’s not funny and knowing what it is and how to prevent it is a vital part of the management of your own condition.
What is Neuropathy?
So you’ve heard the word but aren’t sure exactly what it means ? Yes, that was me too. Let me try and explain. Neuropathy affects the nerves. Nerves carry messages between the brain and every part of our bodies, helping us see, hear, feel and move. Nerves also carry signals that we are not aware of to parts of the body like the heart, making it beat, and the lungs, so we can breathe.
So, damage to the nerves can cause problems in various parts of the body.
High blood glucose (sugar) levels can damage the small blood vessels which supply the nerves causing neuropathy. This prevents essential nutrients reaching the nerves and in turn the nerve fibres are then damaged or disappear.
The Impact of Neuropathy
There are different types of neuropathy which can cause sensory issues like tingling, numbness, burning or shooting pains and can cause you to lose the ability to feel pain or changes in temperature.
It especially affects the feet of diabetic patients which can be dangerous if they fail to notice a foot injury, friction from shoes or even broken bones. Diabetics are much more likely to be admitted to hospital with foot ulcers or infections than with any other complication of the condition. Hands and arms are less commonly affected.
Neuropathy can affect nerves carrying vital information to glands and organs which can cause issues with stomach, heart, bowel and sexual organs. Damage can cause issues like bloating, constipation, diarrhea, loss of bladder control, impotence, irregular heart rhythm and issues with sweating, often related to an inability to regulate heat properly or sweating whilst eating.
Sometimes neuropathy affects the nerves which help control movement. Damage to these nerves can lead to muscle twitches, cramps and spasms, muscle weakness or even wastage (where muscle tissue is lost due to lack of use).
Other symptoms include dizziness or actual fainting, difficulty swallowing or feeling full after just a small amount of food.
Eyes are another danger zone if your blood glucose levels is not kept in your target zone.
Next page: preventing and treating neuropathy.