Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage caused by diabetes. It is estimated that about half of people diagnosed with diabetes can suffer nerve damage that affects the legs, feet and eyes. The condition also affects the nerves that control different bodily functions such as digestion, blood pressure and heart rate. About 60-70 percent of people with diabetes suffer from some form of neuropathy. The condition can develop at any time, but risk increases with age and longer duration of diabetes. In addition to being more common among people who have problems controlling their blood glucose, diabetic neuropathy generally affects those who are overweight and have high levels of blood cholesterol and blood pressure.
Types of Diabetic Neuropathy
There are different types of diabetic neuropathy, each affecting different parts of the body in various ways. Neuropathies are classified based on the affected nerves:
- Peripheral neuropathy – This condition affects the peripheral nerves in areas such as toes, legs, feet, hands, and arms. Main symptoms include shooting pain, numbness or tingling and loss of sensation in the feet and legs.
- Thoracic/Lumbar radiculopathy – This type of neuropathy is mainly caused due to the compression of nerves as they exit from the spine, or from tumor or infection. Neck pain and back pain are common symptoms.
- Charcot’s joint (neurogenic arthropathy) – It is a degenerative disease that affects one or more joints causing swelling joint instability and abnormal pain sensation.
- Femoral neuropathy – Normally seen in people with type 2 diabetes, this occurs due to femoral nerve dysfunction resulting in weakness or pain in the thighs, hips, or legs, usually on one side of the body.
- Foot drop – Also called drop foot, this involves difficulty in lifting the front portion of the foot resulting in the toes being dragged along the ground when walking.
- Autonomic neuropathy – It occurs when the autonomic nervous system that controls the body functions related to heart, lungs, bladder, stomach, intestines and eyes gets damaged.
The symptoms associated with this condition depend on the type of neuropathy and which nerves are affected. Some people with nerve damage experience no symptoms at all. For others, the first symptom may often be numbness, tingling, or pain in the feet or hands. The symptoms can be minor at first since nerve damage occurs over several years. Mild cases get unnoticed for a long time and become prominent after diabetes has been diagnosed. The main symptoms of diabetic neuropathy include:
- Swallowing problems
- Nausea & vomiting
- Muscle weakness
- Erectile dysfunction in men or vaginal dryness in women
- Bladder problems
- Abdominal fullness or bloating
Management of diabetic neuropathy needs to start at the initial diabetes diagnosis. In professional healthcare centers, neurologists will be actively involved in the treatment of patients with diagnosed with the condition. To prevent further nerve damage, the first step would be to bring down the blood glucose levels into the normal range with measures such as meal planning, exercise, avoiding alcohol consumption, and medication, including insulin therapy.
Reliable healthcare centers provide customized treatment plans based on the symptoms and the types of neuropathy. Treatments include chiropractic care, physical therapy and neuropathic pain management with medications.
When the vertebral joints of the spine degenerate due to aging, they can put pressure on the roots of the spinal nerves and cause the typical symptoms of neuropathy. Chiropractic manipulation can correct the misalignments in the spine. The hands-on treatment activates the nervous system and improves the communication from the brain to the body and back to the brain. Physical therapy exercises improve blood circulation in the body, strengthen the foot and leg muscles, and ease nerve pain. Diabetic nerve pain relief involves steps to reduce the symptoms and help the nerves repair themselves. Pain caused by nerve damage is treated with medications such as anti-depressants, narcotic medications and opioids.