Neuropathy is a very painful condition that can affect people with diabetes. Diabetes is a condition that affects a growing number of people in the U.S. everyday. This condition affects the body’s ability to use blood sugar for energy. Glucose can build up in the body if the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or it makes none at all. Different forms of diabetes include Type 1, which occurs when a person’s pancreas doesn’t produce any insulin. Insulin is a hormone that in healthy people moves glucose from the blood into the cells, thereby lowering blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which a person doesn’t produce enough insulin or the insulin it does produce isn’t working sufficiently. Gestational diabetes develops in some pregnant women and usually resolves when the baby is born. The other two types are chronic and can be progressive.
Diabetes can be controlled through insulin injections, medications and for some people, diet and lifestyle changes. Diabetics whose conditions are not adequately treated are at a much higher risk of developing complications that include nerve damage (neuropathy), chronic kidney failure, cardiovascular disease, poor healing of wounds, erectile dysfunction, eye problems that can lead to blindness and gangrene that can lead to amputation.
Diabetes: Possible Long-Term Consequences
Nerve damage can be widespread throughout the body, and some people may have no symptoms at all. Others may experience pain, tingling and/or numbness in the hands, arms, feet or legs. The nerve damage can impact internal organs and systems as well, such as the digestive system and sex organs. Anyone can develop diabetes related nerve pain at any time, but it’s more common for people who are older or have more advanced diabetes. Those who have trouble controlling their diabetes are also more prone to developing neuropathies.
The possible causes of neuropathy include high levels of blood glucose for long periods of time, low levels of insulin, a high level of blood fat, genetic factors, nerve injuries, inflammation of the nerves due to autoimmune disorders and blood vessel damage. Lifestyle issues such as smoking or alcohol use may also contribute to diabetic neuropathy. Symptoms of nerve damage depend on the person and whether the condition has progressed. They can include: numbness, tingling or pain in the extremities; diarrhea or constipation; indigestion, nausea or vomiting; problems urinating; weakness; muscle wasting in the hands or feet; dizziness; or erectile dysfunction.
Special care of the feet needs to be taken by people with diabetes. Loss of sensation in the feet can mean that people with sores, cuts or injuries may not discover them until there is damage from ulcers and infections. Poor circulation can also contribute to foot ulcers. Many cases of lower-body amputations could be prevented if people with diabetes inspected their feet everyday and kept them clean, health experts say.