Top Diabetic Neuropathy Symptoms and Treatments

Approximately 60 percent of people who have been diagnosed with diabetes suffer from diabetic neuropathy. Generally, when people think about diabetic neuropathy, they think of tingles or pain in the fingers and toes.

There is much more to the condition than that, though.

What are the signs of diabetic neuropathy?

Now, there are a few kinds of diabetic neuropathy. However, some common symptoms to look out for include…

9. Numbness

It’s common for people with neuropathy to have a reduced ability to notice changes in temperature or even to feel pain.

How does it happen?

Sensory nerves are responsible for carrying messages from the brain to various parts of the body. These messages contain information about things like texture and temperature. So, when these sensory nerves are damaged, these messages aren’t sent and received properly.

The result?

People often notice that they lose their ability to grasp items, identify the texture of items, and sometimes they lose the ability to be able to tell whether something is too hot or too cold. People may also find that their symptoms are more pronounced when they use appliances that vibrate, like hair dryers, for example.

What does it feel like?

The numbness or the sensation of pins and needles begins in the feet and the hands, but can radiate into the arms and the legs. These symptoms can range in severity from mild to extreme pain. People with this condition can also experience pain in the first three fingers located nearest to their thumbs.

8. Reflex Impairment & Muscle Weakness: Twitching, Cramps & Incoordination

Sensory nerve damage can contribute to a decrease or even loss of reflexes as well as muscle weakness.

How does it happen?

Motor nerve damage is the main source of muscle weakness when people have peripheral neuropathy. The symptoms of this type of nerve damage include fasciculations, or uncontrolled muscle twitching. They can also experience muscle shrinking and painful cramps.

What does it feel like?

There are a number of symptoms associated with sensory nerve damage. For example, people often lose the ability to feel vibrations in their feet and hands. Some people describe feeling like they are wearing stockings or gloves even when they are not. People may even find it difficult or downright impossible to coordinate movements. That can mean an inability to fasten buttons or maintain balance when the eyes are shut.

As a result, people may notice a decline in their quality of life, which can result in significant emotional distress.

7. Autonomic Nerve Damage: Heat Intolerance, Sweating, GI Upset & Carpal Tunnel

The autonomic nervous system refers to nerves that carry messages to blood vessels and internal organs, such as the intestines, bladder, genitals, and sweat glands. Autonomic nerve damage effectively means that nerves that control involuntary bodily functions and reactions are damaged.

How does it happen?

People with autonomic nerve damage have a wide range of issues, as the autonomic system is massive. For example, if small blood vessels develop an inability to effectively contract and expand, someone can experience issues with uncontrolled blood pressure. Gastrointestinal symptoms are also associated with autonomic nerve damage, which can even result in system-wide damage such as difficulties eating, if the nerves along the esophagus are affected. Complex regional pain syndrome also falls into the category of autonomic nerve damage; this type of neuropathy is caused by damage to small fibers within the nerves.

What does it feel like?

People with this type of nerve damage may experience:

  • heat intolerance
  • excessive sweating
  • issues with blood pressure
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • difficulty swallowing and eating
  • loss of bladder control and function
  • sexual dysfunction
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome, when the immune system attacks the body’s own nerves
  • carpal tunnel
  • localized tingling
  • localized numbness
  • localized pain
  • Bell’s palsy, a condition that can cause paralysis on one side of the face

6. Eye Problems

How does it happen?

People with neuropathy can experience damage to the nerves in their eyes.

What does it feel like?

When this type of damage occurs, someone could experience:

  • an ache behind one eye
  • difficulty focusing
  • double vision
  • difficulties transitioning from lightness to darkness

5. Overall Body Discomfort

People who have autonomic neuropathy can experience a number of symptoms that can have a significant effect on their emotional state of being. Some of these symptoms can even change the way people interact with others, including their desire to engage with others publicly.

These symptoms include:

  • urinary retention or incontinence
  • poor body temperature regulation
  • nausea
  • bloating
  • vomiting
  • a loss of appetite
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • lightheadedness
  • elevated heart rate while resting

In addition, people may find it difficult to engage in sexual activity and maintain relationships due to a decrease in sexual response, erectile dysfunction, and even vaginal dryness.

4. Taking Control

People with diabetic neuropathy should know that it is ultimately up to them to manage their condition. After all, doctors can make recommendations all they want, but it won’t mean anything if a patient is unwilling to abide by these recommendations. So, patients should do their part by listening to their doctors, learning about this condition, and tracking their symptoms.

Symptom tracking is key to managing the condition.

This last part is especially important. Sometimes, symptoms associated with diabetic neuropathy can become so severe that they can indicate a life-threatening complication. So, keeping a journal to track the times and the dates of symptoms is one of the best ways to keep a medical team aware of any changes they need to make to treatment plans.

Be strategic about doctor’s visits.

People can also help themselves tremendously by understanding the reason they are seeing their physician and what they wish to get out of the visit. Because it can often be difficult to categorize the specific symptoms related to diabetic neuropathy, it is important that people take the time to write a note about their experiences. This way, they can take these notes to their doctor, along with any questions they may have.

What are some ways to improve diabetic neuropathy symptoms?

Of course, patients don’t have to just observe their symptoms; they can take active steps to improve them, too…

3. Methods for Improving Symptoms

There is no cure for diabetic neuropathy. However, people should not be discouraged or become fearful because of their condition. After all, there are certain diabetic neuropathy symptoms that people can improve with various methods.

Medical Aids to Help with Mobility Issues

  • Mechanical supports like braces for the hands and feet can reduce pain and lessen physical disability.
  • A person can see gait improvement with the use of orthopedic shoes. Orthopedic shoes can also lessen the possibility of foot injuries.
  • People who have been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome can benefit from splints that position the wrist to alleviate pressure from nerve compression, thus giving it the opportunity to heal.

Certain Exercises to Help with Specific Problems

Depending on the autonomic symptoms a person is experiencing, light exercises may be required. For example, people whose blood pressure significantly drops upon standing can learn to stand slowly. This method prevents drops in blood pressure.

Holistic Treatment Options

A great number of people have found that holistic and complementary treatments help. These methods may include:

  • massage therapy
  • acupuncture
  • herbal remedies

Therapy

Behavioral, cognitive, and psychotherapy sessions have also proven to be reliable treatments to help people cope with chronic pain, depression, and anxiety.

Medications May Help

Sometimes medications may help.

  • For those with blood pressure issues, drugs can help stabilize blood pressure swings.
  • Itching and pain are often managed with medications.

Now, not all medications are created equal; some are much more effective for this condition than others…

2. Medications that Treat Diabetic Neuropathy

Many medications for treating diabetic neuropathy are also used in the treatment of other medical conditions.

Antidepressants

For example, some of the most effective drugs for managing neuropathy symptoms are SSRIs (serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). Now, SSRIs are a class of drugs that were originally developed to treat depression. This class includes duloxetine hydrochloride. When used for neuropathy, it can help control pain by enhancing the ability of the brain to block pain signals.

Other medications

It’s not just antidepressants that may help, though. For instance, medications like pregabalin, gabapentin, lamotrigine, and topiramate are often used as epilepsy or shingles-management drugs, as they can quell nerves’ electrical signals. This property also makes them effective for managing diabetic neuropathy pain and tingling.

So, what’s the takeaway?…

1. Final Thoughts

Approximately 50% of people diagnosed with diabetes will experience some form of diabetic neuropathy. Unfortunately, the effects of neuropathy damage can drastically affect many aspects of someone’s life. That is why it is important that people educate their family and significant others about the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy—so they can be a better support system once they know what to look for.

Caregivers of elderly women should exercise extra caution.

Caregivers of elderly women should be especially cautious. Why? Because elderly women with diabetes are particularly susceptible to bladder infections, and their symptoms can include irritability and combativeness.

Lifestyle changes can help.

Most importantly, lifestyle choices can affect the progression of diabetic neuropathy. Smoking, for example, increases the risk of a person developing problems with their feet. Why? Because nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, or something that constricts blood vessels. So, smokers should be aware that blood flow to places like their toes and feet could easily become compromised.

There is hope.

All in all, a diagnosis doesn’t have to be a drastic sentence. Proper diet and exercise, for example, can significantly slow down the progression of diabetic neuropathy. When paired with other forms of treatment and management, someone can still experience a rewarding and fulfilling life.

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