The global epidemic of diabetes has caused a corresponding increase in disorders and complications. One such prevalent complication is diabetic neuropathy. Research shows that about 60 to 70% of diabetics will at some point develop a form of neuropathy. Further, Black patients have a 77% more risk of having diabetic neuropathy than the remaining U.S population.
What’s Diabetic Neuropathy?
The term ‘neuropathy’ refers to the damage of nerve cells which are crucial for movement, sensation, and touch. Diabetic neuropathy definition is nerve damage caused by diabetes. One of the major diabetic neuropathy causes is high blood sugar which injures nerves throughout the body.
If not managed, diabetic neuropathy can lead to various complications such as digestive issues, sexual dysfunction, infection in the legs, and feet, and urinary problems.
The most prevalent form of diabetic neuropathy is peripheral neuropathy also called distal symmetric polyneuropathy (DSP). It appears with a ‘stocking and glove’ distribution whereby pain and numbness start developing symmetrically in the feet.
It then travels up the legs as the condition progresses and eventually reaches the upper extremities. Other types of diabetic neuropathy include:
- Autonomic neuropathy: Affects the autonomic nervous system that controls the heart, stomach, bladder, sex organs, intestines, and eyes.
- Proximal neuropathy: Also known as diabetic amyotrophy that affects the nerves in the thighs, buttocks, or hips.
Symptoms of Diabetic Neuropathy
The symptoms of diabetic neuropathy in feet start mild but grow gradually depending on the affected nerves. Some of the common symptoms include:
- Pain and numbness in the legs and feet
- Tingling or burning sensation
- Increased sensitivity to touch
- Motor nerve dysfunction and weakness of the muscles
- Foot ulcers and infections
Risk Factors for Diabetic Neuropathy
Anyone with diabetes can develop neuropathy. However, these risk factors increase your chances of getting nerve damage.
- Poor blood sugar control
- Diabetes history
- Kidney disease
- Being obese
Diagnosis of Diabetic Neuropathy
Diabetes is a hereditary disease that can be inherited from either the mother or father. An article published in Diabetes care notes that if a father has type 1 diabetes, the risk of the child being diabetic is 1 in 17.
The probability of inheriting the disease from the mother is 1 in 25 if the mother is below 25 years and 1 in 100 if the mother is above 25 years. Further, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is 40% when one parent has the disease and 70% when both parents are diabetic.
Diabetic neuropathy doctors near me can perform a physical exam and carefully review your medical history and symptoms. The specialist will check the overall muscle strength and tone, tendon reflexes, and sensitivity to touch and vibration.
Along with the physical exam, the doctor may perform or order specific tests such as a filament test where a soft nylon fiber is brushed over areas of your skin to test sensitivity to touch. A clear diagnosis is essential for a diabetic neuropathy cure of the underlying conditions.
Diabetic Neuropathy Treatment
Is diabetic neuropathy curable? Presently, there’s no known cure for diabetic neuropathy. Treatment is aimed at relieving pain, slowing down the progression of the disease, managing complications, and restoring function.
To regulate the body’s blood glucose levels you may be required to take insulin or oral diabetic neuropathy medications such as metformin (Glucophage). The American Academy of Neurology has set out guidelines for diabetic neuropathy treatment to prevent opioid use.
Some of the effective diabetic neuropathy medicines listed include pregabalin, gabapentin, duloxetine, and amitriptyline.
Management of Diabetic Neuropathy
Is diabetic neuropathy reversible? Diabetic neuropathy cannot be reversed since it’s impossible for the body to naturally repair damaged nerve tissues. However, measures such as increasing awareness, access to preventive care, and proper nutrition aid in diabetic neuropathy pain treatment.
Blood Sugar Management
Diabetic neuropathy curable symptoms usually get better when the blood sugar is under control. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that diabetics should have an A1C at least twice a year. However, this test is insufficient for diagnosis in African Americans.
Research shows that about 11% of Black Americans contain a gene variant that can make an A1C test ineffective. The doctor may then recommend another test, such as fasting or glucose tolerance for a clear diagnosis.
Proper nutrition is a key diabetic neuropathy natural treatment that prevents health issues stemming from diabetic neuropathy. Nerve damage is usually caused by high levels of blood glucose.
Managing the blood glucose helps prevent further nerve damage and can be achieved by maintaining a balanced diet that is heavier on vegetables, fruits, and fiber. The B vitamin complex plays an important role in nerve health.
A deficiency of vitamin B12 can lead to neuropathy. Vitamin B6 helps the brain produce chemicals that relay information in the body.
A regular fitness routine can help address muscle weakness that some patients experience with diabetic neuropathy foot conditions. Exercise also aids in lowering high blood sugar. It’s recommended to consult with the healthcare provider before starting a new exercise regimen since neuropathy may affect the body’s response to injuries or activities that risk injury.
Non-healing wounds, ulcers, and even amputation are common complications of diabetic neuropathy of the feet. All these can be prevented or managed by having a thorough foot exam at each clinical visit and taking care of your feet at home.
Diabetes and corresponding disorders such as neuropathy are a real threat to patients. The aim should be to avoid the onset and reduce the risk factors of the disease. Staying physically active and fit, proper nutrition, and quitting bad habits such as smoking goes a long way in keeping diabetic neuropathy at bay.