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What is Diabetic Neuropathy?

Diabetic NeuropathyFact Sheet

FACT SHEET

Diabetic Neuropathy

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Diabetic neuropathy is a nerve disorder caused by diabetes. Over time, high blood sugar levels from diabetes can damage nerves throughout your body causing neuropathy.

There are several types of neuropathy:

Peripheral neuropathy – peripheral neuropathy reduces your ability to sense pain, touch, temperature, and vibration in certain parts of the body. Peripheral neuropathy may also affect movement and muscle strength.

Autonomic neuropathy - may cause problems with the nerves that control the involuntary functions of your body, such as heartbeat, blood pressure, sweating, digestion, urination, and some aspects of sexual function.

Focal neuropathy – focal neuropathy affects a single nerve, most often in the wrist, thigh, or foot. It may also affect the nerves of the back, chest, and those that control the eye muscles. Focal neuropathy often develops suddenly and is the most rare form. 

What can cause neuropathy?

High blood sugar levels cause diabetic neuropathy. The higher your blood sugar levels, the greater your risk of developing neuropathy. The risk of nerve damage also increases as you age and the longer you have diabetes. Smoking and excessive use of alcohol may further increase the risk of neuropathy. Approximately 50% of people who have diabetes will eventually develop neuropathy. 

What are the neuropathy symptoms?

Neuropathy symptoms vary according to which nerves are injured, but may include some of the following:

Peripheral neuropathy – symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include tingling, numbness, tightness, burning, stabbing pain, greatly reduced or greatly increased sensitivity to light, touch, temperature, loss of balance and coordination. 

Autonomic neuropathy – autonomic neuropathy symptoms include frequent bloating, nausea/vomiting, abdominal pain, profuse sweating, sexual problems, dizziness, weakness, and difficulty knowing when your blood sugar is low.

Focal neuropathy – symptoms of focal neuropathy include pain, weakness, motor problems in a single area of the body, pain in or around one of your eyes, double vision, and difficulty moving the eye.

How is neuropathy diagnosed? 

A diagnosis of neuropathy is based largely on your symptoms, your medical history, and a physical examination. Tests such as electromyogram (EMG) and nerve conduction may be done to confirm the diagnosis. Additional tests may be needed to identify which type of neuropathy you have. These tests will identify the organ or system affected as well as guide neuropathy treatment.

What are the neuropathy treatment options?

There is no cure for diabetic neuropathy. Treatment focuses on slowing the progression of the disease by consistently keeping your blood sugar levels within a narrow and tightly controlled range. Taking proper care of your feet to keep them free from sores and infections is also important. 

Your doctor will tailor your neuropathy treatment to your neuropathy symptoms. These neuropathy treatments may include but are not limited to: pain medication, pain pumps, acupuncture, massage, biofeedback, physical therapy, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS), or steroid injections.

What can I do to decrease my risk or avoid progression of neuropathy?

In addition to having regular medical checkups, the best way to avoid progression of neuropathy is to control your blood sugar, exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, do not smoke, and limit your alcohol intake.

For additional information on:

  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Autonomic neuropathy
  • Focal neuropathy


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