Diabetic Neuropathy

What is diabetic neuropathy?

Diabetic neuropathy is nerve damage
due to diabetes. Over time, high blood sugar (glucose) can damage the blood vessels and
nerves. This can cause problems and symptoms. It can happen most often in the legs and
feet. But it can also affect organs in your body.

Nerves send signals 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 have
nerve problems at any time. Nerve problems can start in the first 10 years after being
diagnosed with diabetes. The risk goes up the longer you have diabetes. About half of
people with diabetes have some form of nerve damage.

What causes diabetic neuropathy?

Researchers are still learning what
causes it. Several things may lead to it. They include:

  • High blood sugar.High blood sugar (glucose) causes chemical changes in nerves. This makes it
    harder for the nerves to send signals. It can also harm blood vessels that send
    oxygen and nutrients to the nerves.
  • Your genes. Some genes can raise the risk for nerve disease. Autoantibodies to nerve tissue
    may cause other damage.

What are the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy?

The common symptoms include:

  • Numbness in the hands or feet, often
    on both sides
  • Pain in the hands, feet, or legs
  • Foot problems, such as calluses, dry
    skin, cracked skin, claw toes, and ankle weakness

Neuropathy can also cause problems with other parts of your body. It
may harm your digestive tract, heart, sex organs, or eyes. This can lead to symptoms
such as:

  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or
    uncontrolled loss of poop (feces)
  • Dizziness, especially when standing
    up
  • Bladder infections
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Depression and sleep problems
  • Visual changes, including inability to
    see or drive in the dark
  • Increased sweating

The symptoms of diabetic neuropathy
may be like other health conditions. See your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is neuropathy diagnosed?

To diagnose neuropathy, you will
need a physical exam and tests. During the physical exam, your healthcare provider may
check your muscle strength and reflexes. He or she may also check how your nerves
respond to:

  • Position
  • Vibration
  • Temperature
  • Light touch

You may also have tests, such
as:

  • Ultrasound to check for problems with the bladder
  • X-rays and other tests to check for stomach problems
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) to look for changes in your heart’s
    rhythm
  • Nerve conduction studies to check flow of electrical current
    through a nerve
  • Electromyography (EMG) to see how muscles respond to electrical
    impulses
  • Nerve biopsy to remove a sample of nerve for testing