What is Diabetic Neuropathy?

Diabetic neuropathy is a kind of nerve damage that occurs over time as a result of having diabetes. 

Diabetes is a disease in which the body is short of or improperly uses insulin, a chemical that helps to regulate normal blood glucose, or blood sugar levels. Diabetics tend to have hyperglycemia, which is the medical term for too much glucose in the blood. Having chronically high glucose levels can destroy your blood vessels, thus impairing circulation, especially in the feet. Nerves are harmed by the lack of blood flow. This nerve damage that is caused by the diabetic process is diabetic neuropathy.

Diabetic Neuropathy Risk Factors

The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse estimates that approximately 60-70% of diabetics have some degree of diabetic neuropathy. Your risk for developing diabetic neuropathy increases with the number of years you have had diabetes, and it also increases with age. Other risk factors include:

  • difficulty controlling blood sugar levels 
  • increased blood pressure levels
  • increased blood fat levels, triglycerides 
  • circulatory problems
  • heart disease
  • inflammation caused by an autoimmune disorder
  • smoking
  • habitual alcohol consumption
  • obesity

Diabetic Neuropathy Symptoms and Treatment

For some, diabetic neuropathy is hardly noticeable, but for others, the nerve pain or crippling effects can be quite disabling and severely impact daily life. More seriously, nerve damage can also lead to limb amputation and other life-threatening complications.

Diabetic neuropathy can develop gradually, but by the time you experience symptoms, considerable nerve damage will have already occurred. For this reason, it is important to focus on regulating your glucose levels and maintaining a healthy diet, weight, and lifestyle before symptoms manifest. These practices may help to prevent or slow down the onset of diabetic neuropathy, and they can also slow the progression and worsening of neuropathy once symptoms are detected.

Symptoms vary according to what nerves are damaged. Treatment is focused on getting blood sugar levels under control, minimizing pain, and preventing the many complications caused by diabetic neuropathy.

Types of Diabetic Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy, also called sensorimotor neuropathy or symmetric neuropathy, is the most common type of diabetic neuropathy. This type affects the nerves in located in the limbs and extremities, such as the:

  • toes
  • feet
  • legs
  • hands
  • arms

Autonomic neuropathy affects the nerves in the:

  • heart and circulatory system
  • lungs
  • digestive system
  • urinary tract
  • sexual organs
  • eyes

Proximal neuropathy, also known as radiculoplexus neuropathy, diabetic amyotrophy, and femoral neuropathy, usually affects one side of your body more than the other. Nerve damage and symptoms are commonly located in the:

  • buttocks
  • legs, especially the thighs
  • hips

Focal neuropathy, also referred to as mononeuropathy primarily affect an isolated nerve. It commonly affects the following areas:

  • facial muscles, eyes, and ears
  • pelvis and lower back
  • chest and abdomen
  • legs and thighs
  • feet