Neuropathy is a medical term that refers to the malfunctioning of the nerves. People suffering from diabetes are likely to suffer from this nerve disorder if their blood sugar is not within the specified range. Uncontrolled diabetes in which blood sugar is alarmingly high can harm the nerves that are passing through the blood vessels. In most cases, the nerves running down the legs are damaged. This is a progressive disorder that does not occur immediately but may take years to develop after diabetes.
There are three types of nerves affected in diabetic peripheral neuropathy: sensory, motor and autonomic. Sensory nerves allow people to feel sensation, like pain, hot or cold or touch. Motor nerves control the muscles and allow movement. Autonomic nerves control bodily functions without our awareness or control. In the feet, an autonomic nervous response would be sweating. Neuropathy can affect all of these nerve group types, but sensory nerves are typically the first and most often affected.
Cause of diabetic neuropathy
The exact cause of diabetic neuropathy is not clearly understood. Many theories exist, but the general school of thought is that high blood sugar causes chemical changes in the nerves and damages blood vessels carrying oxygen and nutrients to the nerves, impairing nerve function. A not so new theory, which is gaining in popularity, is the idea that diabetics are susceptible to nerve compression. The susceptibility is thought to be due to the increased volume of the nerve from the abnormal glucose
metabolism within the nerve. In layman's terms, this is as if the nerve is swelling and the surrounding tissues and ligaments are pressing on the nerves, resulting in a loss of function.
How to treat diabetic neuropathy
Managing diabetes is extremely important to treat this condition. Though, this painful condition cannot be completely cured, with proper treatment the patient can lead a normal life. This condition can cause further complications if the blood glucose levels are not within the normal range. Therefore, it is essential to continue taking the prescribed diabetes
medicines to keep the blood sugar
levels under control. People with severe diabetes, may be advised to take insulin injections. One can use a glucose meter to check the blood sugar levels.
Medications are commonly prescribed to relieve pain, and in order to control the pain the patient may have to take different medications. Studies have shown that the following medicines are helpful for relieving pain:
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Lidocaine patches
- Topical capsaicin creams
- Painkillers like oxycodone and codeine
- Anti-seizure medications such as gabapentin and pregabalin
Regularly Daily exercise
is one of the best ways to manage blood sugar levels. It is essential to remain active to avert any complications. Exercising for 30 minutes is sufficient to keep the condition under control. Before starting any exercise regime, consult your doctor to know what exercises will be suitable to perform during this condition. Along with exercise, strictly following the diabetic diet is also very important.
In this condition, the nerves located in the feet are susceptible to damage. People suffering from this nerve damage are at a higher risk of developing foot ulcers. Many patients experience loss of sensation in their feet. Even small injuries on the feet may worsen if treatment is not taken on time. Therefore, it is extremely important that the patient takes proper care of his feet by applying moisturizing lotions on a regular basis.
In some patients who are suffering from diabetic neuropathy, health complications that may develop are urinary tract problems and digestive disorders
(diarrhoea or constipation). A change in diet that involves reduction in fibre and fats is beneficial to reduce symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders
. In order to get rid of urinary tract infections, the patient is asked to drink plenty of water. Sometimes, antispasmodic medications are prescribed to treat loss of bladder control (involuntary urination). In some cases, patients suffer from sexual dysfunction
which can be treated by oral medications such as vardenafil
(Viagra). For women, oestrogen creams and vaginal lubricants are helpful. Another health problem that may occur is orthostatic hypertension, a condition in which the blood pressure suddenly decreases upon standing. This condition is treated with medications like fludrocortisone
Prevention of diabetic neuropathy
As with all diabetic complications, prevention is the best treatment. Keeping the blood sugar levels within a normal range is the most important tool in treating and preventing peripheral neuropathy. Even with tight control, most diabetics will develop some level of neuropathy. Considering the severity of the complications associated with neuropathy (ulcers, infections and amputations), the associated pain in diabetic neuropathy, tight blood sugar control is of the utmost importance. Along with a healthy diet
, exercising for 30 minutes each day will also help to increase circulation and stimulate the growth of new vessels, which may help slow the progression of neuropathy.
Diabetes not properly controlled paves way for health complications like neuropathy. Considering the adverse consequences of uncontrolled diabetes
, one should religiously follow all the precautions related to diet and lifestyle. Remember, exercise and healthy diet play a crucial role to manage diabetes successfully, in turn helping to prevent neuropathy.