We’ve talked a lot about diabetic neuropathies– from what they are and how much you know about them, to exercises you can do to avoid them and ways to stave off this family of complications. You might be wondering why we’ve devoted so much time to this subject. And we’ve got an answer:
Diabetic neuropathy can be frightening.
While the complications can be little more than irritating and sometimes go away with time, they can also be painful, even debilitating. Further, there is no treatment for most neuropathies, and if left untreated symptoms can be severe and even fatal.
Unfortunately, about 60-70% of individuals with diabetes will someday develop some form of neuropathy. That’s a pretty frightening statistic, but we believe that knowledge is the best way to confront that fear and protect yourself.
Fully understanding the condition is one of the best things you can do to prevent or delay the onset of complications. Additionally, understanding symptoms can ensure that in the event they occur, you’re able to recognize them as soon as they start and can seek help before things get worse. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy!
1. BALANCE ISSUES
A common symptom of peripheral neuropathy is having issues with balance. This is especially common in individuals who are experiencing neuropathy symptoms in their feet. Because neuropathy in the feet is often accompanied by numbness, it can affect balance and coordination.
2. NUMBNESS AND TINGLING
Numbness is often associated with peripheral neuropathy. Individuals suffering from this type of neuropathy often complain of feeling numb in the affected extremities. Typically the feet and legs are the first to be affected, with the numbness later spreading to the hands and arms. This is because the extremities are most susceptible to nerve damage brought on by uncontrolled blood glucose levels.
If you’re suffering from peripheral neuropathy you might find that you have difficulty feeling or that you experience a tingling sensation in the affected area. This can also come with diminished sensitivity to temperature.
And while this may not sound like a big deal, recognizing pain can protect us from, well, more pain. For instance, if you don’t feel a sore on your foot it’s likely you won’t notice it, and therefore won’t tend to it properly, which can lead to infection down the road.
Pain can be the result of damaged nerve fibers sending incorrect signals to the pain centers in your body. People who experience neuropathy pain describe it as burning, freezing, stabbing, or sharp. Some individuals compare the pain to an electric jolt. The most commonly afflicted area is the feet, but it can occur in the legs, hands, and arms. Depending upon the location of the damaged nerves, sufferers may also experience bone and joint pain.
Another common problem comes from muscle cramping or twitching. This happens when neuropathy affects the nerves responsible for muscle movements. Often, the problem initially presents itself as twitching and progresses to cramping as damage to the nerve intensifies.
If you suffer from this symptom, you may find that you become increasingly sensitive to touch.
4. Muscle Weakness
Muscle weakness can occur when an individual’s motor nerves are damaged. This can make it difficult for the sufferer to perform very basic activities, such as lifting their arms in a specific motion. As muscles atrophy, this problem worsens, and the individual can find it difficult to stand, walk, raise their arms, or hold things. In severe cases, this can cause paralysis in certain areas (i.e. frozen shoulder).
5. Bladder and Digestive Problems
Autonomic neuropathy affects the nerves that control your body’s involuntary functions, such as heart rate or temperature. These nerves are responsible for controlling, among other things, the digestive system. This can cause people to suffer from constipation or diarrehea, or alternating episodes of each.
Individuals with digestive issues may also encounter gastroparesis. This often painful condition can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, heart burn, abdominal pain, bloating, and loss of appetite.
The urinary tract can also be affected. This can cause incontinence and increased frequency of urinary tract infections.
6. Difficulty regulating body temperature
Damage to the autonomic nerves can result in a plethora of issues. Because these nerves are responsible for regulating temperature, people suffering from this type of neuropathy may find themselves frequently cold or extremely hot. This can result in abnormal sweating patterns– either not being able to sweat, or sweating profusely.
7. HYPOGLYCEMIA UNAWARENESS
Hypoglycemia unawareness occurs when an individual’s blood glucose level is dangerously low, but their body fails to respond with the common symptoms. Normally, when blood sugar drops, the body releases epinephrine. However, because the release of epinephrine is controlled by the autonomic nerves, this may not happen.
If the body doesn’t receive the sudden output of epinephrine, it fails to respond with the symptoms that signal an individual is experiencing a low.
8. FOOT PROBLEMS
You might have noticed that feet are a recurring source of trouble for people suffering from neuropathy. As mentioned, people with peripheral neuropathy often experience numbness that can prevent them from noticing foot problems before they become serious.
Loss of nerve function and muscle atrophy due to neuropathy can also result in a change in the way an individual walks, oftentimes causing them to walk abnormally. Over time, this can change the shape of their foot, making it difficult to find shoes that fit properly. Ill-fitting shoes can result in increased risk of sores, blisters, ulcers, and ultimately infection.
9. SEXUAL DYSFUNCTION
In males: Erectile dysfunction is believed to affect more than half of men who have had diabetes for more than 10 years. The biggest cause of this is nerve and artery damage in the genital region. Damage to the vascular system can impair blood flow to the genitals, making it difficult to get or maintain an erection. Also, neurovascular damage can decrease blood flow and sensation, making it difficult to have an orgasm.
In females: Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels in the walls of the vagina, posing an obstacle to lubrication. This can cause discomfort during intercourse. Neuropathy can also cause damage to blood vessels that carry blood to your nerves. This can make it difficult for women to become aroused or to have an orgasm.
The best way to prevent or delay neuropathy is to maintain tight control of your blood glucose levels. If you’re struggling to stick to your diabetes management plan, or find that following it isn’t proving to be effective at consistently staying within a healthy range, talk to your doctor. Your physician can help you develop and implement strategies to help you improve your numbers.