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Diabetic neuropathy is nerve damage due to diabetes. Over time, high blood glucose can damage the tiny blood vessels that supply your nerves, especially in the legs.
Nerves send messages to and from your brain about pain, temperature, and touch. They tell your muscles when and how to move. They also control the systems in the body that digest food and pass urine.
If you have diabetes, you can develop nerve problems at any time. Serious nerve problems can develop within the first 10 years after being diagnosed with diabetes. The risk of getting neuropathy grows the longer you have diabetes. About half of people with diabetes have some form of nerve damage.
The exact cause of diabetic neuropathy is unknown. Several things may contribute to it, including:
The following are the most common symptoms of diabetic neuropathy:
The symptoms of diabetic neuropathy may look like other conditions or medical problems. Consult your doctor for a diagnosis.
There are several different types of diabetic neuropathy. They include:
Peripheral neuropathy. This type affects nerves in the legs, feet, arms, and hands. Symptoms include:
Autonomic neuropathy. This type affects nerves that serve internal organs. This includes the heart, digestive system, sex organs, urinary tract, and sweat glands. Symptoms include:
Focal neuropathy. Sometimes neuropathy affects a single, specific nerve and part of the body. This can be nerves of the eyes, face muscles, hearing, pelvis and lower back, thighs, and abdomen. Symptoms include:
To diagnose neuropathy, you will need a physical exam and other special tests. For example, ultrasound is used to check urinary issues. Ultrasound uses sound waves to visualize your bladder. Stomach issues can be identified with X-rays and other diagnostic tests.
In addition, your health care provider may:
Check muscle sensitivity to the following:
Request more tests, such as:
Your health care provider will figure out the best treatment based on:
The goal of treatment is to ease pain and discomfort. It’s also important to prevent more tissue damage. Treatment may include:
Treatment may also be prescribed for complications of neuropathy. This could be gastrointestinal problems, dizziness and weakness, and urinary or sexual problems.
One complication of neuropathy can occur when the bladder becomes paralyzed. When this happens, the nerves of the bladder no longer respond normally as the bladder fills with urine. As a result, urine remains in the bladder, leading to urinary tract infections.
Neuropathy may cause erectile dysfunction (ED) when it affects the nerves that control erection. However, the desire for sex does not usually fall.
Diarrhea may occur when the nerves that control the small intestine are damaged. The diarrhea occurs mostly at night. Constipation is another result of damage to nerves in the intestines.
Sometimes, the stomach is also affected. It may lose the ability to move food easily through the digestive system, causing vomiting and bloating. This is called gastroparesis. It changes how fast the body absorbs food. It can make it more difficult to match insulin doses to food portions.
Vision can also be affected by retinopathy, which begins with changes in blood vessels of the retina. This affects the light-sensitive tissues at the back of the eye. In some cases, the blood vessels can swell or leak fluid. In other cases, there is abnormal growth of new blood vessels on the surface of the retina. Over time, this can lead to vision loss and blindness.
Your eye care doctor may treat retinopathy by using a laser to make tiny burns. These burns seal the blood vessels and stop them from growing and leaking.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
Bayhealth is Southern Delaware’s healthcare leader with hospitals in Dover and in Milford. Bayhealth provides a wide range of medical services, including cardiovascular, cancer, orthopaedics and rehabilitation, pediatrics, respiratory care, sleep care, surgical weight loss and women’s services.