Diabetes is of three main types:
Type I: This is also known as juvenile diabetes and is a result of insufficient insulin production by the pancreas.
Type II: Accounting for about 90% of all cases of diabetes, type II diabetes mellitus is defined by insulin resistance which means that insulin receptors on cells do not respond to insulin.
Gestational Diabetes: This is seen in pregnant women who do not have a prior diagnosis of diabetes. It is theorized that gestational diabetes is caused by hormonal changes during pregnancy.
Neuropathy refers to a condition in which there is damage or disease affecting the nerves. Nerves control both movement and sensation, so depending on the type of nerve affected (motor, sensory, or mixed), there can a number of varied signs and symptoms such as weakness, numbness, tingling sensation, etc.
It can affect a single nerve or many nerves simultaneously and it can be a chronic or acute condition.
It may seem far-fetched that diabetes can affect nerves but this is one of the most common and most debilitating complications of diabetes.
It is theorized that diabetes causes damage to nerves by altering the function of the small blood vessels that supply the nerves. The excessively high levels of glucose in the blood are thought to cause damage to the covering of the nerves. This covering called the myelin sheath helps in the conduction of impulses along the nerve cell and from one nerve cell to another.
Damage to the myelin sheath results in reduced or slowed conduction of impulses in the nerves which gives rise to the various symptoms of diabetic neuropathy.
It can affect any nerves: motor, sensory, or mixed. Usually, diabetic neuropathy first starts in the feet and then progresses to other regions of the body.
Signs And Symptoms Of Diabetic Neuropathy
Signs and symptoms depend on the particular nerves that are affected, their location, and their functions.
Common symptoms are:
Numbness, especially in the extremities (hands and feet)
Burning or freezing sensations
Loss of muscle mass and tone in the small muscles of the hands and feet
Random muscle contractions
How Is Diabetic Neuropathy Diagnosed?
It is diagnosed by a doctor based on physical examination, patient reporting of symptoms, and physiological tests such as a nerve conduction test.
Nerve conduction tests are a type of neurophysiological testing that involves passing small amounts of current through major peripheral nerves to access their function.
Treatment For Diabetic Neuropathy
The primary treatment is regaining and maintaining control of blood glucose levels. Treatment of diabetic neuropathy aims to prevent further nerve damage, restore as much nerve function as possible, and relive the signs and symptoms associated with this condition.
Regular monitoring of blood sugar levels, maintaining a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and taking the appropriate medications are vital to controlling diabetes and diabetic neuropathy.
You may also be given medications to help you cope with the pain of diabetic neuropathy, as well as medications to encourage nerve and myelin sheath repair.
It is important to be vigilant and proactive about foot care. Anyone with diabetes or diabetic neuropathy should routinely examine their feet for any wounds or injuries. Early detection and treatment of foot problems in people with diabetes can prevent life-altering and devastating consequences.