It is hard to believe that just 10 short months ago we knew nothing about Type 1 Diabetes let alone “What is Diabetic Neuropathy”.
As a result of our grandson’s diagnosis I spent and continue to spend countless hours online researching all things diabetes-related.
I concluded that as a full-time blogger it is my duty to share this information with my readers.
In no way do I offer any medical advice, I only share what we learn as we walk the Type 1 journey with our grandson. Always follow the advice of your Diabetes Team and follow the treatment plan they have set forth for you.
So let’s just get right down to it, shall we?
What is Diabetic Neuropathy
Diabetic neuropathy is a complication of diabetes that causes permanent nerve damage. It most often occurs in the feet and legs but can occur in other locations.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney diseases, between one-third and a half of people with diabetes have neuropathy. I find that number very startling, don’t you? What that actually means is that between 33 – 50 out of 100 people diagnosed with diabetes have some sort of neuropathy.
In some cases, neuropathy can affect the feet or legs and in some cases, it can affect the internal organs which can be life-threatening.
It is for this reason that we will explore the different types of Diabetic Neuropathy and learn whether we can prevent it.
Different Types of Neuropathy
Peripheral Neuropathy usually affects the feet and legs but can occasionally affect the arms and hands. A person with peripheral neuropathy may not feel cuts or sores on their feet which can lead to infection and/or amputation.
Autonomic Neuropathy usually affects the digestive system, blood vessels, urinary system, and sex organs.
Proximal Neuropathy often affects the hips, buttocks, or thighs usually in people over 50.
Focal Neuropathy occurs with damage to a specific group of nerves causing weakness. Occurs most often in hand, head, torso, or leg.
What are the Symptoms
People with neuropathy may not feel heat, cold, or pain especially in the feet which can cause infection.
Symptoms are typically dependent upon which nerves are damaged and may include:
- digestive issues such as bloating, belching, constipation, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and belly pain
- inability to regulate temperature (heavy sweating at night or after eating certain foods or inability to sweat)
- incompetence or inability to fully empty bladder
- erectile dysfunction or vaginal dryness
- poor circulation or low blood pressure causing dizziness, weakness, or fainting when standing or sitting from a reclining position
- inability to sense when blood sugar is low
While our Type 1 Diabetic grandson is only five and has not been diagnosed with neuropathy we are always vigilant about watching for signs of it developing.
There are times when he goes low at night that he awakens with leg pains. He also tends to complain of pain in his belly when his blood glucose levels are high.
I also had an uncle who had Type 2 Diabetes and I remember he lost the feeling in his feet and as a result, became wheelchair-bound in his fifties.
This really drives home the necessity for proper daily foot care and mentioning any symptoms to your doctor no matter how insignificant they may seem at the time to you.
How is it Diagnosed
Your doctor will want to discuss your symptoms and review your medical history as well as perform a physical examination. You must be honest with your doctor about your symptoms.
They will check your heart rate, blood pressure, and test your sensitivity to temperature and touch.
Your limbs will be examined for any loss of sensation with nylon fiber, called a filament test. They may also use a tuning fork to test your vibration threshold.
Testing ankle reflexes are also common.
What is the Treatment
While maintaining blood glucose levels within your target range will not cure nerve damage, it can help prevent the damage from worsening and possibly easing the pain associated with it.
Depending on your symptoms treatment may include:
- pain medication
- medication for digestive or blood vessel problems
- blood pressure medication or compression socks
- medication, devices, or lubricating creams to help with sexual problems
- splints or braces for a pinched nerve
Daily foot care is important to prevent serious infection or amputation.
Be sure to tell your doctor what is working and what is not. They will work closely with you to determine to most effective treatment for you.
Can It be Prevented
Consistently managing your blood glucose will definitely help prevent developing neuropathy. This can be accomplished by daily:
- monitoring your blood glucose levels
- taking all medications as prescribed
- following your diabetes meal plan
- being physically active
If you already have diabetic neuropathy working closely with your doctor and following all their recommendations can slow its progression. By exercising proper care, you can reduce the amount of damage and avoid further complications.
Upon the diagnosis of our grandson with Type 1 Diabetes we learned just “What is Diabetic Neuropathy”. We are now much more confident in our ability as a family to do everything possible to prevent this from occurring or at least minimize its effects upon our grandson.
We learned there are four types of neuropathy and they affect different sets of nerves.
Those four types are peripheral, autonomic, proximal, and focal.
Your doctor will make the diagnosis based on a range of scans and tests for ankle reflexes, sensation, as well as skin texture and tone.
Treatment involves various forms of physical therapy and medication to control both pain and advancement of the damage.
People with neuropathy tend to not feel cuts or abrasions on the feet which makes daily foot care essential to avoid infection and possible amputation.
By working closely with your Diabetes Care Team and diligently managing your blood glucose levels it is possible to prevent or minimize the effects of Diabetic Neuropathy.
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