What is Diabetic Neuropathy?

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  • Written By: Katharine Swan
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 June 2019
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Diabetic neuropathy is a long-term complication of both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Uncontrolled, or high, blood glucose levels cause nerve damage to occur, generally because the nerves are starved for a healthy blood supply. A high concentration of sugar in the bloodstream thickens the blood, causing circulation problems that eventually lead to nerve damage.

The most common type of diabetic neuropathy is the loss of feeling in the feet and legs. Because the feet are the furthest extremity from the heart, they are often the first affected by reduced circulation. Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy in the feet, known as diabetic peripheral neuropathy, include tingling and numbness in the feet and legs, as well as burning sensations, pain, and slow healing.

Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is a problem for diabetics because loss of sensation combined with slow healing can cause injuries to go unnoticed, and infection and even gangrene to set in. As a result, some diabetics may end up having one or both feet or portions of their legs amputated.


There are other types of diabetic neuropathies that can be problematic for people with diabetes. One such complication is diabetic autonomic neuropathy, which affects the digestive system, urinary system, and sex organs. When this condition affects the digestive tract, the person may experience heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. People with diabetic autonomic neuropathy may also feel full too quickly when eating. This complication also frequently affects the blood vessels, causing low blood pressure, dizziness, and even fainting episodes if the person stands up too quickly.

Diabetic autonomic neuropathy can also affect a person’s urinary system and sex organs. Symptoms include incontinence, which is the inability to hold back urine effectively, more frequent urination, lack of erection in men, and reduction of vaginal lubrication in women.

Diabetic proximal neuropathy and diabetic focal neuropathy are the result of nerve damage affecting specific areas or nerves, respectively. These types of diabetic neuropathy cause weakness, pain, and vision problems for cases of diabetic focal neuropathy that affect the eyes. Even carpal tunnel can be a type of diabetic neuropathy, where nerve damage occurs as a result of high or uncontrolled blood sugars.

Everything about the human body, from the circulatory system to the other systems the oxygen and nutrients in the blood support, is designed to operate with a certain range of blood sugar in mind. Constantly high blood sugar thickens the blood, therefore slowing down the circulatory system and starving cells and nerves throughout the body. The best method of preventing any kind of diabetic neuropathy is to maintain tight control over one’s blood glucose, by checking blood sugar frequently and correcting with insulin or glucose as necessary.



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