The Impact of Diabetes—Pictures of Neuropathy

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  • Diabetic Neuropathies Skyrocketing

    Diabetic Neuropathies Skyrocketing

    The Neuropathy Association reported in 2013 that neuropathy in the United States is “skyrocketing.” Between 15 and 18 million Americans have diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN). Also called diabetic nerve pain, DPN affects the nerves in the hands and feet, causing numbness, tingling, and pain. Nerve problems may also occur in the digestive tract, heart, eyes, and other organ systems.

    Potential causes of nerve damage include:

    • high blood sugar levels
    • duration of the disease
    • low levels of insulin
    • inflammation in the nerves
    • lifestyle factors like smoking or alcohol use
  • Tingling and Numbness

    Tingling and Numbness

    Scientists aren’t sure exactly how diabetes damages nerves. Some theorize that the excess blood sugar affects the protective coating on nerves. Others believe decreased blood flow to the nerves can cause damage.

    Either way, as the disease progresses, patients may feel a tingling or numbness in the fingers, toes, hands, and feet. Patients may also report a “pins and needles” feeling, or even a burning sensation.

  • Shooting Pain

    Shooting Pain

    A nerve that’s pinched or suffering from damage may send out signals that cause shooting pains. People also described this sensation as an electric shock, or a sharp, stabbing pain. The sensations usually come and go, but they may also remain more constant at times.

    These types of pains are most common at night, and can disturb sleep. They may also be the result of damaged nerves that are sending out mistaken signals to the brain (misfiring). 

  • Extreme Sensitivity

    Extreme Sensitivity

    Imagine how it feels when someone touches an open wound. Diabetic neuropathy can cause similar sensations. When the protective covering of the nerve is damaged, patients may experience extreme sensitivity in that area.

    At its most severe, this type of neuropathy can cause extreme pain when the area is only gently brushed or touched. Some patients can’t stand to have even something soft brush across their cheek or to have sheets over their bodies at night.

  • Muscle Weakness

    Muscle Weakness

    Nerves control our muscles. As they are damaged, we become less able to control muscle movement. Diabetes also damages blood vessels, which can affect blood flow to the muscles. Though other diseases can cause nerve damage, diabetes often affects them to the point that the muscles weaken. Patients experience a gradual decline in muscle strength.

    The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke states that muscle weakness is a common symptom of nerve damage. It may progress to muscle twitching and actual muscle loss over time.

  • Inability to Feel Hot and Cold

    Inability to Feel Hot and Cold

    Our nerves help us to sense the world around us. They are how we notice when we’re feeling hot or cold. They also tell us when we’ve stubbed a toe or suffered a paper cut.

    When nerves are severely damaged, they can actually die off. Suddenly, you may no longer be able to tell when you’ve stepped on a tack or suffered a blister. That means small injuries can go unnoticed and untreated. This can cause more problems down the road.

  • Foot Problems

    Foot Problems

    Once a person loses function in some of the nerves in the feet, they may not notice a blister, infection, or wound until it becomes infected, swollen, and inflamed. Nerve damage can also lead to changes in the shape of the toes. This can require shoe-fitting adjustments.

    Doctors always recommend that people with diabetes check their feet and hands daily for injuries, especially those who’ve suffered nerve damage and lack feeling in the fingers or toes.

  • Difficulty Walking and Performing Other Daily Tasks

    Difficulty Walking and Performing Other Daily Tasks

    It’s because of our nerves we can button up a shirt, create a hairstyle for ourselves, or even open a doorknob. Nerve damage in the hands and feet can make these everyday tasks more difficult or even impossible. But there are tools available that can help. Specialized orthotic inserts, diabetic shoes, and gripping tools are just a few examples.

  • Autonomic Symptoms

    Autonomic Symptoms

    Did you know that nerves control the digestive system? They are also involved in perspiration, sexual function, heart rate, urinary function, and more. If diabetes affects any of these nerves, patients may experience the following symptoms:

    • stomach upset (constipation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting)
    • urinary problems (incontinence or urinary tract infections)
    • erectile dysfunction or vaginal dryness
    • inability to stay warm or cool
    • difficulty focusing your eyes
    • dry, cracked skin
  • Coping with Nerve Damage

    Coping with Nerve Damage

    To avoid or limit any of these symptoms, concentrate on controlling your blood sugar levels. The more you can keep your levels in the normal range, the slower any nerve damage will progress. Exercise regularly, manage your weight, and take steps to reduce stress.

    Talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes and tools that can help you cope once nerve damage has occurred. Medications are also available to help reduce symptoms.