Diabetic neuropathy is one of the most debilitating complications of type 1 diabetes, and one of the most common. It is the medical name given to progressive damage to the nervous system caused by diabetes. Diabetic neuropathy leads to a loss of feeling in the hands and feet, and is the most common cause of "nontraumatic" (not due to an accident) amputations in the United States. More than 60 percent of people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy, but only about half experience symptoms. It is most common among those who have had diabetes for at least 25 years.
What are the complications of diabetic neuropathy?
Diabetic neuropathy can affect nerves throughout the body, and every organ system as well. Different doctors classify neuropathy in different ways. One way to classify diabetic neuropathies is as either peripheral, autonomic, proximal, or focal.
Peripheral neuropathy can cause pain, burning, tingling, or numbness in the hands, feet, arms, and/or legs.
Autonomic neuropathy can cause problems with the digestive system, including bowel and bladder function; the sexual organs; the sweat glands; the eyes; the heart; and the blood vessels that control blood pressure. It can also make it difficult to feel the body's signals of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
Proximal neuropathy can lead to weakness in the legs, and pain in the hips, thighs, and buttocks.
Focal neuropathy can causes a sudden weakening of a nerve or group of nerves anywhere in the body, but most often in the head, torso, or leg, resulting in muscle weakness or pain. It is possible to have neuropathy present without any noticeable symptoms.
What can be done to prevent and treat diabetic neuropathy?
People who have a history of poor blood sugar control, those over 40, those who are overweight, and those with high levels of blood fat and high blood pressure are most at risk for developing the complications of diabetic neuropathy. So tight blood control, maintaining ideal weight, and regular exercise are essential preventative measures. It is also important to limit alcohol consumption, take care of your feet, and report any problems with feet, legs, digestion, sexual functioning, dizziness, and inability to detect low blood sugar to your doctor. Specific treatments vary depending on what type of neuropathy exists.
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