One of the common misconceptions is that peripheral neuropathy is the only type of neuropathy that affects people with diabetes. Once neuropathy occurs, it is often ruled out as peripheral neuropathy when in fact, there are three more types of neuropathy that afflicts diabetics.
When there are high levels of glucose present in the blood for a long period of time, the tiny and fragile nerve fibers are damaged which eventually results in diabetic neuropathy. It also becomes difficult for the nerves to send signals to the different parts of the body. Another condition is hyperglycemia, a condition that causes damage not just to the inner linings of the blood vessels, but also to the capillaries that are in charge of delivering blood to the brain, to aid the functions of the nervous system. When these three work together, the person becomes numb and then experiences intense nerve pain in different parts of the body.
Different Types of Diabetic Neuropathy:
The first type of neuropathy is peripheral neuropathy which is the most common type of diabetic neuropathy. Usually, the symptoms are first felt in the feet, then it slowly moves its way up to the legs, hands, and then to the arms. Other symptoms of peripheral neuropathy are:
- Weak muscles
- Acute pain in the joints
- Acute pain in the bones
- Deformities, ulcerations, infections, and other acute foot injuries
- Burning sensation
- Tingling sensation
- Cramps or sharp pains
- Lack of coordination and balance
- Loss of reflexes
- Sensitivity to touch
- Loss of temperature or pain sensation
Commonly known as proximal neuropathy or diabetic amyotrophy, radiculoplexus neuropathy targets the nerves in the lower part of the body, especially the legs, hips, buttocks, and thighs. More often than not, the symptoms are felt on just one side of the body and may improve as time passes.
The symptoms of radiculoplexus neuropathy are:
- Sudden weight loss
- Swelling in the abdomen (if the nerves in the abdomen are involved)
- Pain in the buttocks, thighs, and hips
- Atrophied muscles which causes disability and weakness
Our body’s autonomic nerves are responsible for controlling the bladder, the beating of the heart, breathing, sexual response, and movement of stomach contents and waste. These autonomic nerves function even without receiving instructions or direction from conscious thought.
The symptoms of autonomic neuropathy are:
- Uncontrollable diarrhea
- Intense sweating
- Incontinence, retention, infection, and other bladder issues
- Erectile dysfunction
- Increased heart rate even when resting
- Unawareness that the blood glucose has already dropped a couple of levels
- Gastroparesis (delayed emptying of food in the stomach)
- Difficulty when swallowing food
- Sexual problems in women
- The body cannot adjust heart rate and blood pressure
- Difficulty in regulating body temperature
- The eyes have a difficulty adjusting to the amount of light available
Mononeuropathy or focal neuropathy targets just one nerve, regardless if it’s located on your torso, face, or leg. It’s a condition that’s common among older adults and is extremely painful. The only good news about mononeuropathy is that it’s temporary and it usually lasts for a couple of weeks or months. Once mononeuropathy is successfully treated, it leaves no lingering pain or damage.
The symptoms of mononeuropathy are specific to just one nerve. These symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Abdominal pain
- Pelvic pain
- Lower back pain
- Pain in the foot or shin
- Pain in the front part of the thigh
- Bell’s Palsy (paralysis on either the right or left side of the face)
- Double vision
- Difficulty focusing
- Pain at the back of the eye
According to studies, approximately 70% of people with diabetes (even those who are asymptomatic) experience one of the four types of diabetic neuropathy. If a person has been diagnosed with diabetes for quite some time, there’s a higher chance that that person will experience diabetic neuropathy.
A lot of people think that for as long as they cut down their sugar intake, the chances of having diabetic neuropathy are lowered, but that’s not the case. There are various factors that cause diabetic neuropathy and these are: high blood pressure, obesity, elevated blood lipids, and smoking. At the end of the day, it all boils down to creating changes in your lifestyle, eating healthy food, and getting rid of things that do more harm than good to your body.
Diabetics should also make it a habit to check their hands, fingers, toes, and feet to see if there’s any damage. Neuropathy usually occurs at these sites and the healing process is awfully slow. Unfortunately in some cases, the condition does not heal at all despite therapy and medication. When not given immediate proper treatment, this leads to serious injuries and eventually amputation. Ask for medical advice from your doctor as soon as you notice the signs and symptoms of diabetic neuropathy.