When you have diabetes, your body looks normal, but under the surface, there’s a lot going on. In addition to improperly forming and processing insulin, high levels of glucose (blood sugar) cause damage to your nerves, especially in your legs and feet.
The official term for this nerve damage is diabetic neuropathy. You may notice your hands, feet, and legs going numb, making it difficult to walk or use your fingers. Neuropathy also adversely affects your heart, digestive system, and urinary tract.
This condition affects nearly one in every two people who have diabetes. By recognizing and managing the symptoms, you can control your blood sugar and stop the spread of neuropathy, and these tips can help.
1. Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy
Neuropathy is a gradual condition. By the time you notice it, you already have nerve damage.
Chances are, you’ve heard of the basics of neuropathy. But you might not have been as aware that there are four different types, each with its own unique symptoms. When you know them, you can spot the signs before the damage becomes irreversible.
Peripheral neuropathy is the most common kind and probably what you’re watching out for. It starts in the legs and feet, then spreads to the arms and hands. Most people feel the effects worse at night.
If you notice any of the following signs, your peripheral neuropathy is kicking in and possibly worsening:
- You don’t notice temperature changes or pain the way you once did, or touching anything is extremely painful,
- Your extremities seem to be burning or tingling,
- Your muscles are weakening,
- You have sharp pains or cramps in your extremities,
- You begin to develop infections, ulcers, or other problems in your feet
Any of these symptoms is a warning sign that your neuropathy is getting worse. Talk to your doctor about new treatment methods, such as medical marijuana, to prevent further damage.
2. Autonomic Neuropathy
You learned about your nervous system years ago. This system includes an autonomic section that keeps your heart rate, blood pressure, bladder, digestion, reproductive systems, sweat glands, and eyes working.
When you have autonomic neuropathy, the typical symptoms of diabetic neuropathy aren’t the warning signs. Instead, you have less obvious problems, such as:
- Blood pressure drops, causing dizziness or fainting when you change position (usually from sitting or lying down to standing),
- Difficulty with your bladder or bowel,
- Digestion issues that lead to nausea, vomiting, and appetite changes,
- Trouble swallowing,
- Vision changes when you’re adjusting from far to near or light to dark,
- Sexual dysfunction
The challenge with these symptoms is that many people put them off as part of getting older. But when you have diabetes, they could mean so much more is going on than age.
Because autonomic neuropathy affects your blood pressure and circulation, you can manage this condition with a high-salt, high-fluid, doctor-monitored diet. Wear compression garments, and monitor your blood pressure and heart rate regularly.
3. Proximal Neuropathy
Officially called diabetic polyradiculopathy, proximal neuropathy occurs in the hips, thighs, legs, and buttocks. It may also spread to the chest and abdomen.
Proximal neuropathy typically stays on one side of the body, but if the problem is left untreated, it can affect both sides. If you notice any of the following signs, you may have this type of neuropathy:
- Pain in the lower back/hip/glute/thigh area,
- Shrinking thigh muscles,
- Pain in your chest or abdomen,
- Trouble getting up after sitting
Management of proximal neuropathy is tied to controlling your diabetes. Focus on keeping your blood glucose sugars normal, avoiding things that affect your blood pressure, and watching your cholesterol levels.
The last type of neuropathy is mononeuropathy. Mono, meaning one, is also referred to as focal neuropathy because it impacts one particular nerve, which can be in the arm, leg, torso, or face.
Mononeuropathy’s symptoms are unusual and often overlooked as a result of diabetes. If you recognize any of these signs, talk to your doctor, as you may be developing this kind of diabetic side effect:
- Double vision or trouble focusing,
- Numbness or tingling in the upper extremities,
- Facial paralysis on one side,
- Hand weakness (dropping things),
- Shin or foot pain,
- Difficulty focusing or double vision,
- Foot drop (difficulty lifting the front of your foot),
- Thigh pain
See your doctor if you notice any of these signs, as they can also be the warnings of stroke, heart complications, and other serious conditions.
When you have uncontrolled diabetes, there’s a nearly 50% chance that you have neuropathy, too. Just because the symptoms you have don’t match your understanding of the condition doesn’t mean you’re safe. Learn the signs of the four different types of neuropathy, and you’ll be able to catch the issue early enough to get it under control.